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Posts Tagged ‘not being tossed away’

Slow Walking, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, C-41 film, photo © 2007-2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Slow Walking, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, C-41 film, photo © 2007-2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In the spring of 2019, I signed up for Natalie’s online class Writing Down the Bones: Find Your Voice, Tell Your Story –– to remember who I am; to try to get back to a practice. It is slow. Liz encouraged me to take the film cameras out again. It reminds me of my roots. Photography is a practice to me. It is like breathing.

Liz returned from a photographic retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii in March. In late April, we walked the prairies and photographed the white willows at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Liz was shooting digital with the Fuji X100F and Sony A7 III. I grabbed the Minolta XD-11, the Canon Rebel EOS 2000, and a few rolls of film. A little rusty, I opened the back of the Canon Rebel to find undeveloped film inside. Whoops, light exposure! (The last time I developed found film, it turned out to be black and white Tri-X of my family from the 1990s.) I finished the rest of the roll and sent it off to be processed.

Now a photographer used to the instant gratification of an old iPhone 6s, I waited two weeks for the C-41 prints to be developed. The day they arrived, Liz and I ran out of National Camera Exchange and ripped opened the envelope in the front seat of her Subaru. There she was, Pedernal at Ghost Ranch. The way she looked over a decade ago at the four season retreat with Natalie.

Synchronicity.

I remember the group walking off to write haiku, swimming with koi in the pond, complaining about the heat. I remember falling behind and never catching up, walking alone by the cliffs and ridges, taking this photograph at Ghost Ranch. I think it’s a whiptail. Natalie would tell me I should know the names of the details around me. There was a photograph of her in the decade-old batch of C-41 prints that came back. She was walking down the road at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, headed back to her room after teaching. She glanced back at us; there was a smile on her face.

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Mother Mallard, BlackBerry Shots, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, April 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






Day in and day out
humans race from place to place;
nature sits rain or shine, not tossed away
for that one wild chance — ducklings on Mother’s Day.







NOTE: I’ve been checking on Mother Mallard every day since I first saw her little nest of eggs (see Nesting & Resting) in a high traffic area near an industrial complex. She sits patiently through volatile storms, human insensitivity, rushing wind and rain, days when the Sun warms her nest. She never wavers. I learn from her, as I often learn from Mother Nature — don’t be tossed away.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, May 7th, 2011, World Labyrinth Day

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — LIGHT AS A FEATHER, haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52, MN Black Bear Den Cam: Will Lily Have Cubs?

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Mandala For A New Year, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, January 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A Downy pecks at the suet feeder. Black-eyed peas simmer in a vintage crock-pot in the kitchen. Temperatures hover around zero; it’s 3 degrees and windy. Gifted with unexpected time alone on New Year’s Eve, I wrote in my journal, checked in with the Midwest Writing Group, worked on a mandala, completed the BlackBerry 365 practice, made plans for the New Year. It felt positive to me, this forward thinking.

I am one of those people who mines for specks of gold in old and burly mountains, drags silvery threads of the past forward. Lineage. Writers, artists, photographers. Process. Birth, death, old age. What makes something work? Like The Fool archetype in Tarot, it is with great humility that I embrace the unknown and begin again. Beginner’s Mind. I will miss ybonesy and her free spirited and vibrant creative fire on a daily basis at red Ravine, but I know I have to face forward. It’s one of the things she taught me — take risks. Move into the future. When you collaborate with a person who strikes a balance, one who possesses the qualities you lack, it’s easy to become complacent about that which needs strengthening inside.

I need a strong back, flexible muscles. I will build on the Bones of red Ravine. I have so many dreams I want to pursue; they have not gone away. I will have to be diligent. Courageous. Disciplined. It takes courage for ybonesy to leave to spend more time with her family; it takes courage to stay. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. There are days when the work of blogging feels like it needs a whole army of writers and artists to move it forward. But I believe in the mission and vision of red Ravine and am excited to steer her in a new direction. The winds may be stiff; I will follow the structure we put into place—teacher, practice, community—and see where red Ravine takes me.


Mandala For The New Year Mandala For The New Year Mandala For The New Year


I am forever grateful to Roma who walked up to me in Mabel’s dining room after one of the silent retreats, and asked if I wanted to write together. I would be returning to Minnesota, she to Albuquerque, 1200 miles between us. The Turtle in me had to give it some thought; not for long. The seed for red Ravine had been planted. Now this space is Home, a strong cottonwood by the Mother Ditch, in her adolescent years, still growing. But nothing can thrive without nurturing, play, attention, and time. I have to plan carefully, regroup. Thank you for standing by me.

I am grateful for the 5 years of creative collaboration with ybonesy. She is a strong, gifted woman, a dear friend. I am grateful for a community that keeps coming back. I feel supported. I’ve committed to keeping red Ravine alive through another year. It’s one of my practices. I draw on what Natalie taught me: Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good (adding under my breath, Cross your fingers for Good Luck!).

Back to the moment. Time to feed Mr. Stripeypants and Kiev. Liz will be rising soon. We spent part of New Year’s Eve watching Lily and Hope on the NABC 2011 DenCam. They aren’t worried about such things as red Ravine. They are busy being Bears. I focus on my new practices for 2011: (1) a daily Journal entry 365 (2) a BlackBerry collaboration inspired by Lotus (one of our readers) (3) a year-long Renga collaboration. I’ll write more about these practices in coming posts. Happy New Year, ybonesy. Happy New Year to all red Ravine readers. Happy New Year, red Ravine. New Beginnings. The Promise of Spring.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, January 1st, 2011

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Moon Over Taos Mountain, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X black & white film print, photo © 2003-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


December marks a time of darkness and silent reflection leading up to the Winter Solstice. Most Decembers, Natalie holds a writing retreat around the time of December 1st through 8th. In Zen, this time is called Rohatsu Sesshin and marks the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. For those heading to Taos to write, it’s a time of community solitude, an opportunity to go within.

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Slow Walking, Natalie Goldberg, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X B&W film print, photo © 2003-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

This week ybonesy and several other writing friends will be making the jouney to Taos to sit in silence. I find comfort in knowing they will be there under Taos Mountain. When they sit, they sit for all of us. The zendo casts a wide circle. Everything is connected. We can sit and write in solidarity.

There will be long nights under Mabel’s lights and slow walks into Taos. Some will walk the morada, visit the graves of Mabel and Frieda, soak up places that Georgia walked on her first visits to New Mexico. Notebooks will be filled with Writing Practices, later to be reread.

Whatever’s at the surface will fall away. What’s important is what is underneath.  Underbelly.


Sit, Walk, Write. With Gratitude to a long lineage of mentors and teachers. For all that has come before. And all that will be.


Note: ybonesy and I met in Taos at a Writing Retreat. We’ll be forever connected by that thread. And the practice that became red Ravine. We’ve written many pieces on our time spent in Taos. To learn more about Sit, Walk, Write or our experience of studying with Natalie Goldberg at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, check out the links in this post. Or click on any of the posts under Taos. With Gratitude to our readers, those at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Natalie, and all the writers and artists who keep showing up to brave the silence. We are all in this together.


–posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 5th, 2010

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New works

New works, small paintings done in Caran d’Ache (wax crayons)
with gloss finish, images © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I love ’em and hate ’em. If it weren’t for art shows, I don’t think I’d ever make art. In fact, making art in the midst of living the rest of my life is the pits. There’s got to be a better way to be consistent.

But the good news is, I love making art again. How did I last however many months I did without it? My friend Laurence turned me on to these wonderful waxy crayons, and I happened to have a bunch of small (3″x 3″ — that small!) wooden canvasses, so I played around with collage and color.  And I did my usual pendants and bracelets.


hand-with-eye-(new)My dilemma: How to make art every day? Or every week, or even every other week?

I love the tedium of it. It’s technical and minute, and even when I’m coloring outside the lines I’m still focused on one canvas. I love how my mind goes from being a net to being a funnel whenever I make art.

There’s a sound associated with that feeling. It goes something like Ffvooom.

That’s my lesson for today. Shows are hard, but shows are good. They make me show up for my art. And if I limit myself to two a year, then I can’t complain. I just got to stop procrastinating.


 

♥ ♣ ♥


Tomorrow I’ll be the featured artist at a wonderful little bakehouse called Cravin’ Cookies. It’s one of those best-kept-secret type places, inside an old house. Barb, the owner, makes the tastiest baked goods. I love her flour-less chocolate torte. And her Key Lime pie. And peanut butter cookies. Yum!

Hope to see my Albuquerque friends tomorrow!



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his and her wellies

his and her wellies


These are the boots we wear to irrigate. Mine are cream colored with koi fish designs. And Jim’s? Well, his are basic black.

This weekend Jim taught me the ropes of flood irrigating our land. It’s no easy task. I have a new admiration for the work he does.

And gratitude.






easter tulips

easter tulips

It never was my intent to learn how to irrigate. I have many passions as it is. I love the land, but its care and feeding—that’s my husband’s domain.

But something happened. The Saturday morning before Easter, I heard Jim calling for me from the bedroom. I opened the door and found Jim collapsed on the bed. Minutes later, three paramedics and two ambulance attendants were in our home.








serenity

serenity (for jim)


Jim is fine. He is alive and better than ever. He had blockages in his heart, which have been opened. He has more energy than he’s had for a very long time.

But it’s going to take him and me both some time before we stop thinking about how fragile life is. Although, perhaps that’s something we don’t ever want to take for granted again anyway.







Postscript: Jim is fortunate. He didn’t have a heart attack on the Saturday before Easter, but he did have a close call. The medical staff at the hospital were savvy enough to know that Jim needed to be treated. They kept him in the hospital over the weekend then first thing on Monday performed an angioplasty and inserted two stents. A main artery was almost completely closed, with only half the heart functioning. There was no damage to the heart. Jim’s healthy lifestyle likely contributed to the fact that he is still here today.

Jim is a tender soul and a genuinely humble man. He told the cardiologist who did the procedure, “Thank you for saving my life.” As Jim now tells the story, the doctor smiled and said, “It was my pleasure.”





acequia

wagon at dawn


jim and rafael

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'Break Me' Music Video Shoot of Alexx Calise, photo by Luigie Gonzalez




You might not have ever heard of singer-songwriter Alexx Calise, but someday, hopefully soon, that will change. Alexx is a young woman who in her short career in a hard-as-nails industry has managed to release a debut album, Morning Pill; rack up over a dozen endorsements from music gear and clothing manufacturers; get featured as a Boston radio’s “Hot Up-and-Coming Indie Artist”; and have one of her songs used in a promo for TV series One Tree Hill. Those are just a few of her accomplishments.

We were curious about how Alexx landed on her unique sound of electronica, hard rock, and urban-edged pop, as well as what drives her to work so hard to achieve her dream. She took time from working on her two next albums to give us these insights.


* * * *




Interview with Alexx Calise, February 2010, red Ravine


red Ravine: By way of introduction, tell us a little bit about yourself and your music. How would you describe your music to someone who’s just getting to know you?

Alexx Calise: Well, I’m a bit of an enigma. I’m too alternative to be considered “normal,” and I’m too “normal” to be considered alternative. Sometimes, I don’t even get myself. I’m extremely introverted in person yet unabashed and raw when I get on stage. I think that my material is an accurate portrayal of my personality. The music is high-energy and adrenaline inducing yet the lyrics are esoteric and thoughtful.


red Ravine: You’ve worked hard toward the goal of being a musician, which is noteworthy given that many people your age are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. How did you get so focused and how do you stay that way?

Alexx: Thank you! Fortunately, I’ve known since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a writer in some form (over the years music started to accompany those writings). Knowing what you want to do early on makes all the difference in the world. Essentially, I had my whole life to hone my craft. Not everyone is that lucky. Being focused and motivated has always been kind of innate for me. I’m always striving for perfection (which is also my downfall), and I’m constantly pushing myself to be better in every sense of the word. No one else is going to do this for me, so it’s up to me to make it happen.


red Ravine: Making it as a musician must be challenging. What specific actions or milestones have you found to be most significant in moving you closer to your goals?

Alexx: There are a few specific things that have helped propel my career, like when my music was featured on One Tree Hill, or when I was Frostwire.com’s featured artist for a while. But I’ve found that hard work, dedication and perspiration created those types of opportunities. The more you put yourself out there, the more you get back. I always have 10,000 different poles in the ocean. If one thing falls through, I don’t dwell on it because another opportunity is bound to come up. I’m constantly moving, and I’m always attempting to generate momentum and interest. I think of my music career as a business, so like Donald Trump or any of these successful entrepreneurs you’ve seen or read about, I’m constantly thinking of new and innovative ways to market myself. I’m always researching and I’m always trying to make my “product” better.


red Ravine: I read in an interview that your father was a musician and an early influence in your musical life. What did he say when he found out you wanted to be a musician?

Alexx: I think my father loved the fact that I wanted to be a musician as well, because it became our way of communicating. We’d spend our father-daughter time playing or talking music, and he even ended up playing a few shows with me when I needed a bass player (by the way, he rips on the bass!). I think some of the most special and memorable times in my life were those moments. You really can’t buy moments like those.


red Ravine: Who are your other musical influences?

Alexx: I grew up listening to silverchair, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The Toadies, STP, Soundgarden and Buckcherry. My forthcoming album, In Avanti, incorporates a lot of my electronica influences, such as Archive and The Dust Brothers. I think the best way to describe the new sound would be “Alanis meets The Prodigy.”


red Ravine: What do you think of shows like American Idol or America’s Got Talent? Are these credible venues for musicians who are starting out or who haven’t found other means of making it big?

Alexx: I’m personally not a huge fan of those types of shows, but that’s not to say they’re not credible launch vehicles. I don’t have a problem with anything that doesn’t compromise someone’s artistic integrity.


red Ravine: Do you like to read, and if so, what books or authors?

Alexx: I’m actually a voracious reader. My favorites to name a few are Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, Downtown Owl and Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, Girl by Blake Nelson, anything Stephen Covey, and Bully by Jim Schutze.


red Ravine: Describe a typical day in your life.

Alexx: Depends on what you’re definition of typical is! (Ha ha!) Lately my days consist of interviews, recording for either my solo project or Sound of Cancer (my other new album/project with drummer/songwriter Dennis Morehouse), doing photo and video shoots, tracking vocals for commercials, writing, practicing, marketing and promoting, and spending whatever little time I have left working out, hanging with my kitten or sleeping.


red Ravine: Talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a young woman in this industry. Have you had to make any adjustments, or do you find the industry to be equally challenging for men and women?

Alexx: I think it’s a challenge for everyone these days. There are thousands of distractions, like social media and other technologies, so that it’s difficult to stand out and be seen as an artist in general. To be a successful musician nowadays, you need to do some serious out-of-the-box thinking. As far as adjustments are concerned, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that people aren’t buying CDs anymore—hence you have to come up with alternative ways of generating income—and that you have to do everything yourself. No record label is going to save you from a lifetime of poverty and obscurity, and most importantly, no one is going to care about your career (or you!) more than you.


red Ravine: I have a ten-year-old daughter who has been playing guitar since age 7. She’s recently discovered the joy of playing for others. What advice would you have for her (or for me, as her mother) in nurturing her love of music and performing?

Alexx: Scatter as many law books around the house as you can before it’s too late! Just kidding! As far as advice goes, I would encourage her to follow her dreams and to reach for the stars. There is nothing on this Earth that you can’t do so long as you put your mind to it. Sure, it’s a long, hard road, but if it’s in your heart and that’s all that you know how to do you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The worst thing you could ever do is give up or let fear get in the way of your love.





____________________________________________________________________________________


Live at Swinghouse (Los Angeles, CA), photo by Lucinda Wedge

About Alexx Calise: Alexx Calise grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she spent her childhood mostly alone or in the pages of a notebook, finding comfort only in her parents’ vast record collection, which included everything from Mozart to Led Zeppelin.

At 11, she picked up the guitar to emulate her father, also a talented musician, and began fusing the melodies she heard in her head with her own poetry and recitations.

She lives in Los Angeles, California. You can learn more about her at her website, plus follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/alexx.calise and on My Space at http://www.myspace.com/alexxcalise.

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A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experience meaning, the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully.

~Flannery O’Connor, from “Writing Short Stories”


I’ve always been a fan of short stories. I subscribe to The New Yorker just to get a new one each week to read.

Short stories are magical. So compact and full of emotion. The good ones draw you in immediately without you realizing it. They’re a mystery, really. I’ve wondered what it takes to make a good short story work ever since the first time I tried writing one, over 20 years ago.

I can still remember the ancient-seeming Sabine Ulíbarri, one of my favorite Literature professors in college, raising a crooked forefinger into the air and saying that the short story began when something extraordinary happened in an otherwise ordinary life. Professor Ulíbarri’s seminar was held in a dim room—he didn’t like florescent lights—where a dozen or so students sat around a conference table and were so rapt by this physically small yet intellectually giant man’s charms that we endured his chain smoking.

He took his shaky hand and drew on the chalkboard an X in the straight-line trajectory of the life of a typical protagonist. Then he drew a bolt of lightening coming from the heavens above and hitting the X. “This,” he said in his booming voice, “is where the story begins.”


∞ ∞




Loving to read short stories and figuring out how to write them are two different things. The short story is a masterful art form, one that Alice Sebold in her stint as editor of The Best American Short Stories 2009 said provides

…endless access into another world, brought forth by an infinite number of gifted minds. A story about grief can comfort; a story about arrogance can shock and yet confirm; a story populated largely by landscape, whether lush or industrial, can expand the realm that we as individuals inhabit.

The dilemma for someone like me, who would love to comfort, shock, confirm, or expand a reader’s realm, is how to make my stories do exactly that. I don’t have an answer. I haven’t succeeded yet, although, if the truth be known I haven’t tried to hard enough either. However, all that is about to change.



If at First You Don’t Succeed…


I just refused to die as a person who had 30 pages of a novel in her drawer.

~Elizabeth Gilbert, answering a question during an Albuquerque appearance



The rest of this post is targeted to people like me who write and write and write yet rarely venture to send our works out into the world where those who’ve succeeded in the literary arena might judge them. I can understand the resistance. Writing is hard enough. Getting our work published is a whole ‘nother matter. But if like me you want to accept yourself as a writer, you may want to consider seriously pursuing getting your writing published in literary magazines.

Right now I’m focused on the short story, but editors of literary magazines care about all kinds of writing. Literary magazines contain fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and some even publish haiku, photography, the graphic narrative, and other art.

Why should we try to get our writing published in literary magazines? According to Poets & Writers, “most writers get the attention of editors, agents, and other writers by publishing first in literary magazines.” Not to mention, many of these venues offer great motivation in the form of cash awards. In fact, this is one of the best times of year to compete in writing contests—the stakes can be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to one or two or four thousand.

I just spent a large chunk of this past three-day weekend submitting a short story to several contests. I wrote the story a few years ago and even though I wasn’t happy with it then, I sent it out back then to a half dozen literary magazines for consideration. Not surprisingly, it didn’t get picked up, so I stuck it into a drawer where it sat for a few years.

Well, as often happens when you step back and stop thinking about a piece for a while (be it art or writing), I could see the weaknesses in the story when I looked at it anew. I spent several hours rewriting and editing until finally I had a piece I could be proud of. The next step was to send it out in to the world.



…Try, Try Again


I take writing and competition very seriously. I believe that all writers should compete—even if I now know this to be a quixotic quests—on a level playing field.

~Alice Sebold, Introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2009


The Poets & Writers website is an amazing place, well laid out and chock full of excellent information for figuring out where to send your work. The site has a “Tools for Writers” tab that shows deadlines for Writing Contests, Grants & Awards in both a Submission Calendar format and in a searchable database where you can filter by genre, entry fee, and timing. There’s also the Contest Blog, with frequently posted gems, including interviews with authors who have won contests in the past.

NewPages.com—a website that touts the goodness of independent bookstores—also carries a list of Writing Contests categorized by monthly deadline. It has a list of hundreds of literary magazines—aptly named “Big List of Literary Magazines”—so that you can get a feel for those that fit your writing style and vice versa.

A source I didn’t find in either Poets & Writers nor NewPages.com is A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps women achieve their artistic goals by providing prize and grants, including a $50,000 biennial grant “to an American woman writer of merit working under financial hardship.”

It should be said, contests are not the be-all end-all of writing. Most important is getting your work published, which these sources provide just as much information about as they do contests and awards. But in the event you need that extra boost, now is an excellent time to vie for prizes.



Your Countrymen (and Women) Need You


It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ.

~Stephen King, “What Ails the Short Story,” in The New York Times, 9/30/2007



When he was editor of The Best American Short Stories 2007, Stephen King declared that short stories were alive but not well. Literary magazines have over time been relegated to the bottom shelves of magazine sections in most big bookstores, and even there only a few titles can be found.

So do your part. Read, write, edit, and submit. Then do it again and again.



Hints & Tips



Poets & Writers offers these common sense tips for submitting to literary journals and/or vying for writing contests:

  • Do research to determine which publications are right for you. In other words, know your market.
  • Each literary magazine has “a unique editorial voice, tone, viewpoint, mission.” Make sure that you read any literary magazine before you submit your work to it. (Many literary magazines have websites with archives where you can read past winning stories or other published pieces.)
  • Read about the contributors to compare their backgrounds and interests to yours.
  • Make sure to read the Submission Guidelines for each magazine. They differ. Some will accept only online; others only accept hard copies sent by mail. Some want 12pt. font with one-inch margins. One might have a word count, another a page count.
  • Specifically look for guidance on simultaneous submissions, meaning submissions of a single work to more than one journal or contest at a time. Most of the literary journals that I submitted to allowed for simultaneous submissions but asked to be informed immediately if the submission gets picked up by or wins somewhere else.
  • Some literary journals request cover letters and others do not. Some contests are done as a “blind review,” meaning that any identifying information about the author is stripped off during the actual reading/review. Poets & Writers suggested that where a cover letter is requested, try not to “discuss the merits or themes of the work you are submitting” but use the cover letter instead to provide a short bio and any past publication accomplishments.

Finally, beware of Writing Contest scams. My advice, and mind you this is only my advice, is to use a source that you trust (the way I trust, for example, Poets & Writers) to identify true literary journals and the contests they run. Others may be designed to simply get your dollars for a submission or reading fee.



Special Bonus: Sabine Ulíbarri


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Looking back I see myself lying flat on my back, unable to move. It was early February, 2009. I was literally lying on the floor of Burlington Coat Factory, my sciatica pinched. That’s how last year began for me. Immobilized.

My best friend from graduate school, Ana Lucia, had come with her family all the way from Brazil. It had been over a decade since I’d seen her and her husband, and I’d only seen her three children in photos. They were on their way to Santa Fe for a week’s ski vacation, stopping off to visit us en route. My sciatica had been giving me trouble for weeks, and then the morning before Ana Lucia’s arrival, I woke up and could hardly get out of bed. I managed to get a chiropractic treatment that morning, acupuncture the next, plus a handful of painkillers from my mom, who suffers from lower back problems.

When Ana Lucia and her family got here, the pain was masked enough to join them for lunch and then to Burlington Coat Factory to buy jackets for their ski trip. For a while, I thought I was going to be fine. Little did I know, it was Codeine that had me walking around the store searching for good deals on down coats. As the drug wore off, the pain became so unbearable I thought I was going to pass out. Panicked, I got the keys to Ana Lucia’s rental and told her that I had to get something from the car.

My plan was to get to the car, drive the less than three miles to my house, pop another painkiller, and come right back. But when I got to the foyer of the store, that space not inside nor outside, I was close to passing out. I plopped myself down in a spot of sun, moaning and sweating. The automatic double doors opened and closed, opened and closed. Shoppers passed through the space, glancing my way. Not a soul asked if I was OK. I’d sit, try to get up, fall back again.

Finally I mustered the strength to hobble to the car. I turned on the engine, put the gear into reverse, and started to back out. When I almost passed out again, I turned off the engine and reclined as far back as the seat would go. I was stuck. I couldn’t drive home and I couldn’t walk back into the store to let Ana Lucia know what had happened.

And that was how my year started. Stuck.

The pinched nerve, I am convinced, had everything to do with a commitment I had made months before. I had been invited to submit five paintings to a show in Manhattan. Thrilled, I signed up to do so. But as the show’s Spring 2009 deadline approached, I let fear get the better of me. I had it in my mind that the pieces were due in New York City in April, but I didn’t go back to verify any dates. By early February, when I finally checked on the due date, I saw that the paintings were due in the gallery by February 28. I had less than a month to go and hardly an inkling of what I was going to paint.

To make matters worse, I had committed to taking on an exchange student from Mexico for two of the four weeks that I might have used to complete the paintings. In hindsight I believe I was subconsciously sabotaging any chance to actually fulfill my creative commitment. (Our experience with the exchange student was so enriching in other ways that I don’t regret having done that. But this is how the mind can work; this is how we create the obstacles to our own creative fulfillment.)

Back in the parking lot of Burlington Coat Factory, I called Jim on my cell phone and told him my predicament. He was there within ten minutes, went inside the store and found Ana Lucia. Then he got me home. I was able to see my friend and her family again on their return leg of the trip. We had a wonderful dinner and have kept in touch since.

Looking back I see that good things come of bad. Aside from my two weeks laid up on the ground, literally, I moved forward in 2009. I completed four paintings and showed them during the Corrales Art Studio Tour in early May. Went to Vietnam in mid-May and again in August. I met Pham Luc, learned how to make jewelry from my doodles, did two art shows in the Fall, and set up a small Etsy shop this past November.

Looking back, I woke myself up. I committed even further to the life I have—giving to my children and husband, to my job. I connected with old friends and new ones, gained from the generosity of other artists, and spent time with family.

Looking back, I see I found clarity. It’s as if Saint Lucy, that courageous woman who gouged out her own eyes so she could dedicate her life to what she loved most, was by my side, carrying her eyes on a plate so that I could see. I began painting her image probably a decade ago and never finished. She’s a constant reminder that if I look inside myself, I can see where I need to go.



________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



This piece is based on a 15-minute Writing Practice I did on WRITING TOPIC — REFLECTION & INTENTION. Tomorrow I will post my Intentions for 2010.

-Related to post The Making of a Painting Painter

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I have guided my two daughters—starting at about age nine—through Writing Practice. In both cases, my girls had graduated from chapter books to Harry Potter. Each was at the time steeped in weekly exercises for spelling, capitalization, punctuation. Each was heading into the season of independent school admissions, which would include a writing test. And each daughter wanted to spend time with me.

So I pulled them into something that was precious in my life. We whipped out our notebooks and fast-writing pens, grabbed a topic from thin air, set the timer, and wrote. And when the timer went off, we read our writing out loud.
 
I learned a lot about the mechanics of writing in elementary and secondary school. Mrs. Salisbury got me hooked on spelling bees. Mrs. Fiske, who wore her ginger-colored hair in a tight flip, walked us through the ins and outs of the paragraph. Mrs. Rhodes cried in class—overcome by the beauty of imagination—while reading The Hobbit out loud to us. But somehow I managed to get through twelve years without knowing how to simply compose.

And so it only seemed right that what took me until my late 30s/early 40s to figure out, thanks to the help of Natalie Goldberg and Writing Down the Bones, should become an early and natural skill for my girls. Like riding a bike or swimming.
 
 
 
How it works
 
 

  1. Start with three of the basic rules of Writing Practice–Keep your hand moving; Don’t cross out; Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. These three are tangible. Any kid can understand them. In fact, they will be music to a child’s ear. I don’t cover the other three rules of Writing Practice, which are: Lose control; Don’t think; Go for the jugular. These ones are, in my opinion, meant for us adults, who try to be in control at all times, analyze our way through most everything, and are inhibited. Kids don’t need to be told to lose control. (By the way, I also have never had to say, “You’re free to write the worst shit in America,” as Natalie does. Children don’t seem to worry about lousy writing at this age, even though they already tend to denigrate their art ability. My theory is that they never write in school; thus, they have no basis of comparison. Not so with art.)
  2.  

  3. Pick a topic that is easy to understand. It should be tangible, something like “Pickles” or “Socks.” The other day, I figured my youngest and I could use a recent topic from this blog, so I threw it out for consideration: I write because… “What does that mean?” my daughter asked. After trying a few times to explain how each of us might choose to write for different reasons, I went with something simpler. Apparently, she’s not in a place of needing to understand why she writes; she writes for the sake of writing.
  4.  

  5. Start with five minutes and work your way up. This was a precaution I took thinking that my daughters might get bored after five minutes, plus it was a gentle start to a new concept. However, we quickly worked our way to ten-minute stints.
  6. When it comes time to read out loud, remind your child that we’re going to each listen to one another with full attention, otherwise you might find her scanning her page. Also, the first time we read, I took the lead. Again, that was probably an unnecessary precaution, as neither daughter hesitated to jump in when after subsequent topics I asked if they wanted to read first.
  7. Do Writing Practice with one kid at a time, at least to start. This is one-on-one time. Having someone else there—even a sibling—might change the dynamic. There will be no trying to impress, no worrying about someone being better. Moms are safe. Plus, it’s an easy way to bond.
  8. When your kid questions the part about Spelling—and, believe me, she will—tell her that she’ll continue to learn how to spell in school and by reading books, but that this practice is mainly for learning how to write, write, write. Spelling is important, but spelling will come in its own time.
  9. Be aware that your own writing might go in almost any direction if you, too, are following the rules of Writing Practice. I try not to temper my writing, and consequently I have written my politics and at times my petty minutiae. You can always pass on reading, but doing so might send the message that not reading is an easy out.
  10. Get your kid her own notebook and fast-writing pen, and encourage her to write on her own in this same way whenever she feels like it. Kids this age know what it means to practice, perhaps for sports or music, so instill the idea while it makes sense. And when she comes ’round and suggests, “Mom, can we do Writing Practice now?” be ready to pull out your notebook and see Beginner’s Mind in action.




_____________________________



Here are the Writing Practices (spelling errors corrected) that my youngest daughter and I did two weekends ago. Our topic was “Fall,” and we wrote for ten minutes.



Hers

Fall is when the leaves all fall to the ground. I like to jump into big piles of leaves. When the leaves start falling they change colors and they also crunch under your feet. Why is fall called fall? Maybe because leaves are falling. Another word for fall is autumn so I’m not sure why it’s called fall or autumn. The names have nothing in common. I also like sitting and watching the leaves fall off the trees. Sometimes all the leaves are a pain when you need to clean them up out of the pond and off the porch. Sonia likes fall I think because she has an excuse to stay inside. Otis and Rafie like to be inside too so they are happy when fall and winter come around. We have a lot of leaves to rake up so I’m happy because I want to jump in a big pile.




Mine

The trees outside the window make sure I know it is fall. They reach out over the window, and the sun shines behind them, shining through them, like light in a stained glass window. The colors are luminous, yellow shades and fading green shades. Even the dead tan leaves are beautiful, dangling in sparkling sunlight before letting go.

This morning I dress in a teal turtleneck sweater that I’ve had for ages, it seems. It’s too short from too many dryings, and it doesn’t keep my belly warm. Still, I head out to the corral with purpose, first holding my arms tight to try to keep the cold from hitting my core. But then I open up, drop my arms and swing them by my sides, in a sort of angry woman march. Except I’m not angry. I’m exuberant. It is cool but not cold. It’s early and the fall air feels new and fresh and good for me.

Dooley is waiting for me at the back gate. It’s a long walk down the service road, and the path is covered with leaves that have fallen from the trees that stretch like canopy over the path. Dooley is hungry for apples and grass and liberation. He will give a neigh and kick and run in a controlled run of his when I let him out.

I think all creatures must love fall. It is the best of times. The sun rises early now that we’ve set back the clocks, and even though it sets early, too, that feels right. Like it’s only natural that we would settle into our cozy homes, stews bubbling on the stove or a chicken roasting in the oven, and wait until it’s time to go to sleep.

Fall is also a time to prepare for the cold of winter. It’s a time to become more productive, less distracted by the never-ending light of summer. Yesterday I worked on my paintings for hours. I am finally becoming satisfied with Bush. He looks more real, red face and all, than he’d looked before. His eyes are scary, as you’d expect the eyes of someone like him to be. And his face has those plains to it that they have, a sharp face, pointy nose, pointy ears, straight lines for a mouth. He is an ugly man, as is Cheney and now Rove. Why is it that our lives get placed in the hands of such ugly men?

 

___________________________________________________________________


Postscript: It is natural that parents want to guide our children, and usually in a more heavy-handed way than we might guide our friends or adult family members. When doing Writing Practice with your child, refrain from critiquing what she writes. Writing Practice is raw; it is not a final product. There is no good, no bad. It is what it is.

If you’d like to give your child feedback, use recall to do so. After she reads, recall a phrase or section of her writing, letting her know that those parts stood out to you. Try to do so without assigning value, such as, “I loved the part about …” If you can show your child how to provide input without labeling the input, you’ll also be role modeling how to listen deeply. It’s a wonderful skill to have.

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Veins, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2009, all photos
© 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Day to day life creeps up on you. Practice falls by the wayside. Goals seem out of reach. Something inside makes you keep going.

Early October was my second time in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin to meet with three other Midwest writers in retreat. We arrived on Sunday, left on Wednesday, but we sure packed in the writing. I nearly filled an entire notebook. We try to meet every 6 months. The first night, we check in, slip sheets on the cabin beds, walk by Lake Michigan, get all the gossip and gabbing out of the way. The next day we dive in.

It’s cold this time of year. One person becomes the Firekeeper. The wood pile needs to be replenished. The fire keeps us warm. There is a need for leadership, someone to time the Writing Practices, lead the slow walking, provide structure for the silence — a Timekeeper. Most traditions have a Firekeeper and a Timekeeper. I am grateful for their effort.

Before the writing begins, we tear off pages of a lined yellow tablet, jot down Writing Topics, and throw them into a bowl. We take turns choosing a Topic and rotate who reads first. Some of the best Writing Practices surface from the strangest Writing Topics. My Other Self. Holy-Moley. The Broken Glass. After a few years of meeting, we have settled into a groove. I trust these writers.

One of the Writing Topics we drew out of the bowl was  “I Write Because…” When the retreat was over, I asked everyone if they would mind if I published the practices. For me, they harken back to the days when ybonesy and I first launched red Ravine (it grew out of our practice). And she has written with these writers, too. Bob and Teri have been frequent guests on red Ravine. Jude was one of our first guests, writing her piece 25 Reasons I Write from one of the cabins near the lake.

I want to share the structure of our writing retreats because anyone can form a writing group. Community is important. For the four of us, meeting together works because we live in fairly close proximity in the Midwest. We can make the drive in 8 to 10 hours if we want to. Last time, Teri, Jude, and I flew to Kansas City, Missouri. We’re thinking about meeting in Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior in 6 months.

I don’t want to make it sound easy. It takes a financial investment up front. And a continued commitment to check in with each other and plan the next meeting at least 3 months ahead. But the rewards are plentiful. Accountability. Support. People who believe in me when I forget how to believe in myself. Some days it feels like our hands are going to fall off from the writing. We crave the silence.

We laugh long and hard. Deep belly laughs. Sometimes we cry.  It feels good to laugh like that, to share meals together. Teri brings wild rice soup from Minnesota. Bob travels with a different kind of Kansas City barbecue each time we meet. Jude prepares her favorite dishes. I don’t like to cook. I volunteer to do the dishes.

The Timekeeper sent me a rundown of our schedule. It works pretty much the same way each time we meet. We follow what we learned from Natalie Goldberg about silence and structure and Writing Practice. Sit, walk, write. We do it because we don’t want to be tossed away. We do it because, for us, it works. It’s one way to write. It teaches discipline. It’s solid. It takes us where we need to go.

_____________________________

 
 

 Writing Retreat Schedule

 
 

Wake up. Silence begins.
Meet for sit, walk, write at 9 a.m.
Sit for 20 minutes.
Walk for 5-10 minutes.
Write: four, 10-minute Writing Practices…one right after the other.
Read one practice, go around the group.
Repeat for the remaining three practices.
Break for 5-10 minutes. (Can break before reading, but usually break after reading)
Return to group.
Write two more practices.
Read them to each other.
About 11:30, break for lunch. Some prep required and we ate lunch in silence.
In silence and on our own until 3 p.m. when we return to the group.
Sit for 20 minutes.
Walk for 5-10 minutes.
Write: four, 10-minute writing practices.
Read each practice write to the group.
Break for dinner about 5:30 p.m.
Break silence.
Dinner at 6.
Talking about writing, life, etc.
Read writing projects we are working on.

 
 

Second Day

Repeat of the first day.

 
 

Third/Last Day

Meet for discussion of goals for next 6 months.
Sit for 10 minutes.
Then take 1/2 hour or 45 minutes to formulate writing/creative goals for the next 6 months.
Meet in group.
Each person discusses goals.
Group comments and person refines goals.

Each member of the group emails their goals to one person who puts them all together, sends them out for review, and then issues final email to group with all the goals listed.

Report to each other on 15th of the month and the last day of the month on our progress…a check-in.

 
 

_____________________________

 
 
 

What I really want to say is I’m grateful for other writers. I admire and respect those who hone their craft, who dedicate time to their practice, who complete projects and get their work out there (no matter how long it takes).

 
 

For me, these self-propelled mini-retreats work because:

  • Follow the same Sit, Walk, Write structure each time. Consistent format.
  • Time to talk, laugh, share. Time for silence. Time alone for reflection. Time to stare into space.
  • No shame, no blame. We write our asses off, we read aloud. No crosstalk or feedback (except around goals).
  • Set 6 month goals, check in every two weeks. Learn that we all go through highs and lows; we all want to quit writing at times.
  • Clarity about money. Split the costs of lodging and groceries.
  • Short visits to museums, cafes, local color, either before or after retreat.
  • Practice feeds practice. Apply what is learned to other practices: photography, haiku, poetry, art.
  • What happens at the retreat, stays at the retreat.

 
Maybe Bob, Jude, and Teri will share more about why these mini-retreats work for them. I was reading through my notebook from early October. There were notes I had jotted in the margins from a conversation we had about what success as a writer means to each of us. What does success mean to you?

What would your writing retreat look like? Go for it. Choose a time. Hook up with other writers. Create a structure. Write. Don’t look for perfection. Let yourself slip up, make mistakes, stop writing for a while if you want to. But don’t be tossed away. Here are our unedited Writing Practices on why we write. Why do you write?

 
 

I Write Because…10 minutes. Go!

 
 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Teri Blair

 
 

I don’t know why I write anymore. That’s the problem. I used to write because I needed to. That was most of my life. Most of my life until I took a sabbatical six years ago. Until then, I found solace on the page; I straightened out my life with a pen and paper. Writing was one of my best friends…certainly a most faithful friend.

And then, I took the sabbatical and began this journey. This concentrate-on-writing-journey. It went well initially. I let myself write all those essays, I joined the Blue Mooners writing group, I studied with Natalie Goldberg, and I starting working with Scott. I sent my work out and even got some small paychecks from editors. But somewhere in there, during these six years, it changed. People started asking me if I had sold anything, asking me about writing all the time. I wanted them to ask me, and then I didn’t. I was losing something by involving everyone, and then it just turned into a pressure. I was writing to have an answer to their questions. Or to feel special. When this was dawning on me, I went to hear Mary Oliver at the State Theater. She told the writers in the audience to write a long, long time before they tried to publish. I knew she was right. I knew I had to go back inside myself if I was going to save this thing that I had once loved and needed and felt close to.

The trip out of the pressure has been much more difficult than the joy-ride in. And now, all I want to do is write, but nothing comes. The voice inside prods: Why do you want to write? Are you going to try to get your life needs met through me? If I come back, will you go down the same old path?

I’m not yet solid in my convictions, though very close.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Jude Ford

 
 
I write because…there are as many reasons to do it as there are reasons not to. At this point, after all these years of honing my writing skills, it would feel like a waste – and a loss – to not do it.

I write because I love to read. Reading triggers my mind to come up with my own ways of arranging words. Reading reminds me of what I want/need to say.

I write because I didn’t feel listened to as a kid. Yeah, yeah, I probably talked so much back then that no one ever could listen to me enough to make me feel heard. My father used to like to say I’d been vaccinated with a phonograph needle in infancy. (I just realized what a dated image that is. Who ever associates a needle with sound in 2009?!)

I don’t feel well listened to even now, I guess. I got into the habit, as I was growing up, of speaking less and less and by the time I turned 21, I’d perfected the art of being agreeable rather than speaking up about who I was or what I thought. I didn’t even know, myself, who I was or what I thought half the time.

But I wrote. Starting when I was 19 and left home for good, I wrote all the time. My journals from my 20’s are full of depression and melodrama, poems that sound as young as I was. When I read them now, they make me cringe.

And yet – I remember what those journals were to me at the time, my one lifeline, my safest place, the only place in my life where I brought all of my true self.

I write still so that I can find out who I am and what I think. There are other lifelines now – Chris, my friends, my work – where I also bring my true self but writing remains one of my mainstays.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

Bob Chrisman

 
 
I write because something inside me wants to tell my stories, put them outside myself and free up the space they take inside me, free up that energy I use to keep the unpleasant ones out of my consciousness. I write because I want to make sense of a non-sensical life, the one I live. Sometimes the connections don’t become obvious until I see them laid out on paper in front of me.

I write to tell my story so that anyone out there who is or has experienced some of the things I have will know they aren’t alone, will know that I survived what they are going through. I write to connect with other people because when I do I feel successful as a human being.

I write because I must. Writing makes me feel free once I’m finished. Starting a piece may prove difficult. I may even avoid writing for days or weeks, but once I begin and finish a difficult piece I feel freer.

I write because writing has introduced me to some of the most wonderful people in the world, people who give me hope that we may deal with our problems and change the world, save us from ourselves.

I write because I must tell my truth to the world, as much as I feel safe telling.

I write because it feels good to see the words appear on the paper as the pen glides across the page. Sometimes surprises happen. Things appear that I didn’t consciously mean to say. Misspelled words give new meaning to what I said, new truth.

I write because writing gives me control over my life.

 
 

____________________

 
 
 

QuoinMonkey

 
 

I write because I love to write. I love writers. I write because it’s a place that is still. I let myself dive into the black. I am honest with myself. Things never seem to be as bad as I think they are when I write.

I write to make sense out of my life. My mother’s life. My grandmother’s life. My crazy family. I write with a community of writers because I know I’m not alone. Because they help me hold the space. Because they are not afraid of what they might find in the silence.

I write to learn about things I would never research if it were not for writing. I write to learn. I write to quell the hunger. I write to still my insatiable curiosity.

I write to help me confront my own death. I write to find my voice, to tap into my inner courage. I write to not feel so alone. Yet writing is lonely. And when I write I am often alone. I write to connect with what is important to me. To connect with others. I write. I write. I write.

I have always written. But writing with wild abandon is something I’ve had to relearn as an adult.

I write to push myself outside of the lines. Because I care about the writers who came before me. I write to teach others how to write. Don’t do as I say; do as I do.

Writing practice frees me. But it’s not a finished piece. It may never be a finished piece. Yet it might.

Writing Practice takes me where I need to go. Teaches me Faith. Patience. Courage. Risktaking. That it’s okay to cry. Conflict resolution. What I care about. What I could care less about.

I don’t have to love everyone or everything. Writing is structure. It teaches me how to live.

 

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

-related to Topic: WRITING TOPIC — 25 REASONS I WRITE

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By Bob Chrisman

 
 
 

BOB FATHER & SON 1958 IMG_1798

Father & Son, circa 1958, St. Joseph, Missouri,
photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
On May 3, 1952 I arrived to take part in the family drama. My parents celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary the week after I was born. Dad had turned 38 in February. My sister would turn ten in September, followed by Mom’s 37th birthday the end of November.

As a child I adored my father, but around the age of five I didn’t want him to touch me. I would scream if he came close. He loved to come home from work and rub his unshaven face against my cheeks until they turned red. I hated that. I hated him.

My father exploded at odd times. Seemingly benign topics of conversation would cause him to yell and pound the table. Although never physically violent, his fits scared me and made conversation with him unpredictably frightening.

Not a particularly outgoing man, he withdrew more from social interactions. At family gatherings he would collect all the reading material in the house, find a comfortable chair, and read and sleep the afternoon away.

My sister left for college when I was nine. My father grew even more distant. His only ally had left the house.

The first craziness that I remember occurred one Sunday afternoon. My sister had come home. My grandmother had come to town from the farm. Our car pulled up in front of the house and I went to the door.

My mother was yelling. My father, half in and half out of the car, shouted at someone. I looked to see who they were screaming at and realized they were arguing. I had never seen them argue like that. “Sis, come here. You gotta see this.”

From behind me I heard, “What the hell?” She nudged me. “Shut the door. We don’t want them to know we saw.” I closed the door.

Five minutes later, Mom walked into the house and threw her purse on the bed. When she noticed us staring at her, she sighed, “Len will join us later. He has something to do right now.”

Twenty minutes passed before he returned home and sat down at the table. No one said a word about what had happened between them.

 
 
 

Years later my mother said, “Your father got scared when you started to first grade. He knew someone wanted to kidnap you kids. They planned to snatch you at the Frosty Treat.” The Frosty Treat was a popular, after-school, ice cream shop. Without any explanation our parents had forbidden us from joining our friends there. I didn’t think much about it. By the time I started school, I had grown used to these commands. The new order was, “Come home directly from school.” I obeyed.

My mother told me that Dad has accused her of moving the pillows on their bed to make him crazy. “We only had two pillows. I never understood what I had done.” Although these episodes continued through my childhood, she never talked about them.

When I asked about the argument on that Sunday afternoon, my mother swore me to silence. “Your dad said an angel descended into the church and stood next to him during the service. It communicated telepathically and told him to watch himself. The man next to him had been sent to see if he played with himself during church. I told him he was crazy. That’s when he yelled at me.”
 
“Mom, that’s nuts. Did you think of going for help?”

“To whom? God? I prayed for your dad night and day.”

“How about a psychiatrist or psychologist?”

“We took care of our own problems.”

 
 
 

BOB FATHER 1968 IMG_1792

My Father, circa 1968, St. Joseph, Missouri, photo © 2009, Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

 
 

Physical problems plagued Dad during the late 1960’s. The grain dust at work irritated his one good lung and caused severe asthma attacks. I can close my eyes and hear the gasping sound as he struggled to breathe. I can see him sitting at the kitchen table, his mouth wide open and his neck muscles strained, as he inhaled.

My mother walked twelve blocks in the dark to the pharmacy to buy the “breathing medicine.” She never asked me, her teenage son, to go. As soon as she left, I crawled under my bed and hid. I didn’t want to hear any calls for help. I’d fail him. I always did.

He underwent hernia surgery in December 1968 and a re-do in January 1969. He stayed off work until March. Two weeks after he returned to work he suffered his stroke.

Chaos erupted. My mother stopped being a mother and became a devoted wife. I resented his stroke because it hadn’t killed him and because it took my mother away.

Somewhere in the years that followed, he gave up. Not that I blame him. His life beat him down. The stroke and residuals destroyed what little will he had left.

It ended any chance I had to talk with him about what happened between us, to ask him questions, to make my accusations, to hear his side of the story. Even if he hadn’t lost his mind, I couldn’t have talked to him, so great was my hatred. On May 2, 1984, he died of old age. A birthday “present” I can never forget.

I’ve always felt incomplete as a man because he didn’t teach me the secrets that fathers pass to their sons. Even now, after decades of searching for that knowledge, which I doubt exists, I still feel inadequate.

 
 
 

Recently a psychic said, “Your father asks you to forgive him for what he did to you.”

Without hesitation I replied, “I have forgiven him. He needs to forgive himself.”

I joined forces with my mother. I disliked the failure I thought he was. I sometimes treated him with no dignity because I thought he deserved my contempt. Perhaps most importantly, I hated him because he didn’t love me enough. But then, I never gave him a chance. Like my father, I must forgive myself for all the things I did and didn’t do in my relationship with him. Only then can I truly bear witness for my father.

 


About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. My Life With Dad is Part III in his exploration of a trilogy series about his father. Part I, My Father’s Witness, was published on red Ravine in August, followed in September by Part II, Bearing Witness.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, and The Law Of Threes. He has also published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

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ybonesy's bones, a shot of my pendants from the We Art the People Folk Festival, September 2009, photo © 2009 by Joel Deluxe, all rights reserved

ybonesy’s bones, ybonesy’s pendants displayed in black beans
at the We Art the People Folk Festival, September 2009,
photo © 2009 by Joel Deluxe. All rights reserved.

 
 


I’m having fun. Playing with the Scrabble and other game tile pendants I’ve been making, turning them into bigger and better things.

I’m nuts for milagros and medallions. I once bought a collection of Catholic medallions from Ecuador, one family’s history with First Holy Communions, praying for miracles, and visiting religious sites. There must have been almost 100 medals in the collection, and I took half of them and put them onto a silver chain. It’s still one of my favorite necklaces.

Last weekend I did something similar with my own pendants. I took a wide-linked, choker-length necklace and started adding Scrabble tile pendants to it. I had some milagros I’d picked up in Sedona, Arizona, a few years back at a garage sale whose owner had just closed down a retail store of Western kitcsh. I also made some charms with my doodles and with images from religious cards I’ve collected over the years. A mixing and matching of all sorts of doodads.
 
 
 

              

                                       

scrabble milagro (one and two), ybonesy’s pendants and charms
mixed with found milagros and charms to make a necklace,
photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 
 
I have other ideas, too, for earrings and bracelets. I’m not sure where this will lead me. Jewelry is a tough business to compete in, and some of the tile pendants I’ve been using are vintage and hard to find. Plus, my primary passion is painting and doodling.

But I’m going with the momentum. It’s all art, it’s all learning, and it’s a heckuva lot of fun for now.
 
 



 

A sampling of pendants (made from existing and new doodles) for the milagro charm necklaces, images and photos © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





Show What?


In preparation for another art festival this Saturday, I’ve reflected on what worked well at last month’s event and what I wouldn’t mind leaving behind. Here is a list of my insights:

  • Lighten up. How these two words have presented themselves to me again and again! Don’t take the event so seriously as to think I have to do everything, now! It’s not my one shot at perfection. I don’t have to push myself to make just one more each of 13 different designs, just in case I sell out of them. Or to prepare for every possible scenario. What if I need to take orders? What if I run out pens? What if I changes my prices? GET OVER IT. None of it is life or death, and it sure ain’t worth staying up until 2 in the morning the night before wracking your brain as to what you’ve forgotten. Get done what you can and don’t worry about the rest.
  • Process matters. Inquiring minds want to know. Do you paint this small? Does it need a mold? What does this drawing mean? I loved it. Artists love talking about their work. Other vendors came by and wanted to know how I got my artwork on t-shirts. I explained the whole thing and left them with the phone number of the silk-screener. So what if next show everyone and their mother shows up with domed resin pendants and silk-screened t-shirts bearing original art? Nothing is original in today’s world. Plus, the more I give, the more I receive. Honest.
  • As with job interviews and blind dates, first impressions are everything. The display is what anyone sees first, so it should appeal to the senses. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Black beans, 79¢ a pound. Fabric from Hobby Lobby, some odd dollars. Three wire frames painted in bright colors, also from Hobby Lobby, $14 each but on sale half off. (Photo by Joel Deluxe, priceless!)
  • Location times three. Not much needs to be said there, except, show up early to get a good spot.
  • Friends and mentors. It’s less scary to partner with a friend, plus you can watch each other’s booths and meet each other’s friends and talk up each other’s art. (And glom on to her when she gets invited to a by-invitation-only festival, and eat her fried chicken, and, and….) Also, I didn’t think up the black beans on my own; my sister came up with that after I told her I thought I needed a black background versus the oft-used white rice.
  • Let yourself get scared and discouraged. For a day, maybe two, but then move on. It’s natural to freak out, but get over it.
  • Practice. The only way I stay fresh, make new images, keep things moving forward, is to keep up my practices—writing and doodling.

 


Las Tres Mujeres, trio of three new pendants
(but only one new doodle), images and photos
© 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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pendants, pendants, pendants, images of ybonesy's pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
Pendants, pendants, pendants, ybonesy’s pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

Remember that television commercial from the 1970s where one boy’s walking along eating peanut butter out of a jar, and another boy walks around the corner eating a chocolate bar? They both spy a pretty girl and–BOOM!–run into each other. The boy with the jar says, “Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” and the other boy says, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”

Wa-la, the birth of Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups.
 
Somehow that feels like my artwork right now. I’m walking along carrying a tray of all my little doodles, and another version of me comes along carrying a tray of assorted game pieces. BOOM! We run into each other and explode all over the kitchen counters.

 
 
 

pendants, pendants, pendants, images of ybonesy's pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved    pendants, pendants, pendants, images of ybonesy's pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved

 
 
 

I wanted to take photos of the entire process of creating my version of Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, but I found that I’m not together enough to document my work and do it at the same time. I can, however, share tidbits of what’s been going on in my mind of late.
 


Why make Peanut Butter Cups to begin with?

I’m going to be in a show on Sunday, September 13, called We Art the People Folk Art Festival. No screening by jury. It’s for regular folk who happen to be artists.

I picked this one because a) a friend told me it was a great event with loads of people coming through it, and b) it sounded like something I’d want to attend on a Sunday in the beautiful Albuquerque fall. It’s downtown in a narrow strip of a park, walking distance to Java Joe’s and the old Fedways where Mom used to shop when I was a kid, the old Paris Shoes, and a dress shop that made what we called Fiesta dresses. (I have two vintage dresses, one from my grandmother.)

It’s old Albuquerque. Gente. I’m thrilled to be a part of it and wonder what took me so long.

The main reason, though, is that making the commitment to something outside of myself is the best way I’ve found to keep moving forward with my art.



What to make?


Ah, what to make? This can be a mind-boggling question for the budding artist and it can become the downfall of any person who dreams of turning their ideas into reality. At some point, you just have to commit to doing something.

Here are two bullet points from my answer to the question “What is my vision for my business?”

  • Own a vibrant and vital online retail business, catering to young and old, activists and quirky individuals of all stripes, people not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and speak their minds to the world
  • Have a diverse range of products, from affordable to high-end. Products will include paintings, three-dimensional pieces of art, tile pendant jewelry, note cards, paper products, t-shirts, and other print-on-demand and/or handmade items (all made with my doodles, paintings, images, photographs, and designs)

 

Quite the mouthful, eh? That’s not even the whole vision. Given the current venue and deadline, I narrowed my current focus to two items: t-shirts and jewelry.

And notice I’m not even to the part about the “vibrant and vital online retail business”? Before I attempt online, I want to talk to the people who will buy my products. I want to hear what they think, find out which sizes, shapes, and designs they respond to. This show, and probably a few others that I’ll do as I continue to learn, is about understanding what it is I’m doing. Right now it’s all grasping at straws.



How to do it?

Before I bought any raw materials (not including all the raw materials I’ve purchased on and off most of my adult life but never used) I set up a legal business and got a tax certificate. Again, this is about more than the show on September 13; it’s about actualizing a vision.

The t-shirts I got from a place called Alternative Apparel. Not your typical Hanes shop. Alternative carries styles I like to wear: scoop- and v-necks, fitted, sheer, and for the traditional t-shirt types, a great-looking slouchy style. I ordered about a hundred shirts and had them shipped to the printer who is transforming my designs into silk screen. Him I found by asking folks at Guerrilla Graphix, a local store whose shirts I admired, Who does your work?

Tomorrow, the silk screener will have a prototype of one of my images ready for me to view. I’ll take him two or three other designs and get his feedback on which ones lend themselves to silk screening. He’s been doing this work for many years, and he has no qualms about telling me if an image isn’t going to transfer well.

The jewelry is made using something called “doming resin.” Doming resin is a type of epoxy that dries into a clear glass-like plastic. The epoxy has a hardener in it to keep the substance, which when wet has a consistency like honey, from running. Doming resin can turn a two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional one, and it has the effect of slightly magnifying the image it covers.

To make a doming resin pendant, I first need to produce an image that fits on whatever surface I’m going to use. Since I’m working with small surfaces, I need to modify my scanned doodles on the computer to crop and/or resize them to fit the surface. Next, I’ve found a local company that will print an 8×10 sheet of multiples (about 25 doodles to a sheet) for less than a dollar each. I glue my image on to the blank side of a game piece–I’m using Scrabble, dominoes, Mah Jongg, and Tile Rummy–seal it with a clear-drying glue, then cover it with doming resin, which dries hard and wonderfully clear.

There are many How-Tos on making Doming Resin Pendants. Just Google those words (or Scrabble Tile Pendants) and you’ll find them. My favorite is this video made by Rio Grande, the Albuquerque-based jewelry wholesaler where I bought the epoxy resin, doming hardener, and chains and clasps needed to turn my pendants into finished necklaces.



pendants, pendants, pendants, images of ybonesy's pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved
                           pendants 8



What’s next?

There are many steps in the process yet, both for getting ready for We Art the People and for realizing my vision. A friend who I knew since 4th grade but only recently reconnected with via Facebook has done many shows. We’ve met twice, once last Sunday to make pendants, and on Wednesday night to talk pricing and display. I want to keep my jewelry under $20 per item, and in some cases, in the range of $8-12. This is a “people’s show,” and so I’ve purposely selected jewelry that is low-cost to make.

I’ve enlisted Jim’s help on the display. This weekend we’ll spray paint old Mah Jongg trays and a peg board for displaying the pendants, plus I’ll scour a few salvage shops to see if I can’t find a mannequin torso to model my t-shirts. I’ll also start working on a flier to send to my contacts (the organizers of We Art the People have a template for vendors to use), so if you’re a friend and/or Facebook contact who lives in the city, expect to experience multiple forms of harrassment as I insist that you come see my Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. (OK, enough with the analogy.)

Also to consider are:

  • Receipt books
  • Packaging
  • Shipping (when I get to that point)
  • Taxes and accounting
  • Online stores
  • …and a whole host of other things to worry about.

 

I’ve hired a graphic designer to create a logo, and I’m hankering to take another Photoshop class (and really learn it this time!). So much to do yet so little spare time. That’s the thing with goals. You’ve got to be in them for the long haul, especially if the rest of life requires your full attention. That’s also why you’ve got to be willing to ask others for help.

Speaking of which, I have my sister Patty to thank for introducing me to doming resin. She is a polymer clay artist who is game for trying out any craft. She and fellow artist friends meet once a month to do doming resin. They make potluck Nachos or Frito Pie for dinner, then work in an area of the host’s home (always the same host) set up to accommodate over a dozen people at well-lighted tables. They share resources, materials, and most importantly, their creativity.

It is a brilliant idea and one that I am thinking about offering to my friends who’ve expressed interest in learning how to make resin jewelry. Communal art-making. What a concept!

I will check in occasionally on red Ravine–to let you know how the show went and to report on my progress toward this new direction. It will be slow going, but it will happen. ‘Cause I really like peanut butter and chocolate.



pendants, pendants, pendants, images of ybonesy's pendants in progress, photo and images © 2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved




-Related to How I Plan To Spend My Oodles Of Spare Time and The Making Of A Painting Painter.

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By Louis Robertson

 
 

This list is a work-in-progress and represents some of the lessons life has taught me. I started it as a “gift” to my children and wanted it to be something they could return to again and again to help put things into perspective and to add focus to their lives. QuoinMonkey, whose opinion I have always trusted, encouraged me to share it with a larger audience. I agreed hoping that the readers of red Ravine may find something in this they can use.

 
 
 

Things I Wanted You To Learn

 
 

1 – As long as you remember me I will stay alive in your memories. You are my legacy, my magnum opus.

 
 

2 – I am very proud of the person each of you has become. Although I did not say it as much as I felt it, you are the source of my joy and pride as a father.

 
 

3 – You can achieve anything! If you can imagine it, you can do it, but it will take hard work. It will not come easy, but if you believe in your ability to achieve, know you have the desire to see it through and persevere, then it can happen. Oh, and a good plan helps.

 
 

4 – Everyone has worth! Even the marginalized — especially the marginalized — have something to contribute to your life. You need to work beyond the visceral feelings, put yourself in their place, and look for the lesson.

 
 

5 – You are constantly being presented with opportunities to learn and grow. God doesn’t give things to you, rather he allows opportunities to be presented to you and it is your responsibility to recognize them, learn from them, and grow.

 
 

6 – Don’t get stuck in the past. What happened, happened. No amount of rehashing, bitching, complaining, or wishing will change the fact that it happened. Look for the lesson and move on, but understand that sometimes it may take years for the lesson to present itself to you.

 
 

7 – When someone has the ability to really irritate you, either by their actions or beliefs, step back! Try to identify what is bothersome and put a new face on it. For example, that person who is always butting into your conversations? Ask yourself, What purpose does this serve to them? Are they lonely, feeling marginalized, friendless, or just trying to get noticed? Then wonder what their self worth may be to have to do this to feel alive, noticed, or a part of something. Maybe even wonder how things must be at home for them. Now ask yourself “How can I help them feel better about their life?” But also remember, sometimes people are just jerks.

 
 

8 – Always remember that you are loved and have a large family to fall back on when things are tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it is not a sign of weakness. It took me 43 years to realize that allowing people to step up and take some of the burden from me is often a gift to them.

 
 

9 – Remember the lesson I taught you as a kid about power. You have a reservoir of power that you control. Be stingy with who you give it to. That kid that knows he can make you mad by calling you fat is taking away some of your power. To get it back you need to be aware of your reaction and change it. This will not only help you with your personal interactions but is essential when trying to break a cycle of reactionary behavior. Once you fall into a pattern, the pattern will repeat itself until something changes. Changing your reaction will make the interaction more real and will cause you to look at it from another perspective. Once you change the pattern it will either fall apart or create a new trigger to a new pattern. Listen to that little voice that says, “Why do we always have the same argument over and over?” and use that pause to look for the pattern, and then change it.

 
 

10 – Make at least one person smile every day. Find something to compliment them on. Do something unexpected for them. Tell them they are important to you. Some days it may be the catalyst that changes their lives or the start of a chain reaction of passing the smile on. When you are given the choice, make a positive impact rather than a negative impression.

 
 

11 – Challenge yourself to be the best person you can be! Don’t settle for okay, strive to be great! Do each task to the best of your ability. Make it a game or a challenge. Don’t just do the job to check it off a list, do it so you can stand back and say out loud, “I did that!”

 
 
 
 

∞ ∞ ∞

 
 
 

About Louis: Louis Robertson (R3) is a divorced father of two teenage children who lives in South Central Pennsylvania. His day-to-day life centers on his children and teaching them about responsible living. He earns a living as a computer systems consultant.

Louis has experienced medical challenges since he was a teenager. After his first liver transplant in 1993, his perspective on life became more focused and his appreciation for the little treasures life grants increased. When he learned he needed a second liver transplant, his focus moved to preparing his family and children for a future without him. He now is a candidate for a third liver transplant and lives his life watching for life lessons he can pass on to his children.

 

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Coffee (Get Your  Motor Runnin), Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Coffee (Get Your Motor Runnin’), outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, a great place to write, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

It’s a rainy morning and I’m slowly waking up. It’s been a strange week. Many irons in the fire, not enough focus, distracted. I have felt like a Duncan yo-yo spinning and “sleeping” at the end of its string. Since most yo-yo tricks are based on learning to “sleep,” it’s important to master the art of spinning. What was it going to take to snap back to the wrist and safely into the palm? Back to basics: practice, structure, community.

Amid continued job hunting, gardening and yard work with Liz, meetings with ybonesy around red Ravine, I’m researching and doing the ground work for a new mandala on canvas, progress on a series that’s been in my head for a while. And after Art-a-Whirl, I was reenergized for the writers’ photo series I’m working on. But I also have a commitment to honor from the last Kansas City writing retreat, a goal to focus on writing memoir essays for print submission — half day, 3x a week, mornings.

Where do I spend my time? It’s a matter of prioritizing the structure of each day. And staying grounded. Do other writers and artists struggle in this way? Is it a block or simply fear. Is there too much on the plate? Or do I just need to settle down and get back on track.

I carry creative projects in the belly a long time. Then they spew out all at once and nearly whole. It is the way I have always worked. I hold my work close to the vest, only talking to a few trusted people. It often takes a deadline to push me to completion. This is good to know.

Another thing that grounds me is looking to writers and artists who have gone before; their sage advice is hard earned and welcome. Recently, I perused paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, the infrared photographs of Minor White, and a book of Judy Chicago’s stunning clay work in The Dinner Party. I’m inspired by the work of others; it wakes me up.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

I also pulled Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft off the shelf. I read it years ago, before I called myself a writer. It’s on my list of classic books on writing — books I go back to when I need to feel that it’s okay to be struggling. I’ve always been fond of the way he dealt with rejection slips early in his career. I have never forgotten it:

 

I had a desk beneath the room’s other eave, my old Royal typewriter, and a hundred or so paperback books, mostly science fiction, which I lined up along the baseboard. On my bureau was a Bible won for memorizing verses in Methodist Youth Fellowship and a Webcor phonograph with an automatic changer and a turntable covered in soft green velvet. On it I played my records, mostly 45s by Elvis, Chuck Berry, Freddy Cannon, and Fats Domino. I liked Fats; he knew how to rock, and you could tell he was having fun.

When I got the rejection slip from AHMM, I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor, wrote “Happy Stamps” on the rejection slip, and poked it onto a nail. Then I sat on my bed and listened to Fats sing “I’m Ready.” I felt pretty good, actually. When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.

By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.

  -from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, ©2000

 
His perseverance, what Natalie teaches as Continue Under All Circumstances, Don’t Be Tossed Away, has always stuck with me. Do you have books you turn to when you feel ungrounded or like your head is going to fly off the top of your spine? If you do, pull them off the shelf again when you get stuck. They will turn you around.

Below are a few tips plucked from paragraphs in On Writing. They were easy to find; they jumped out from the page in fluorescent yellow, the highlighter I used 9 years ago. Ah…..I feel better already.

 
 

10 Tips On Writing From Stephen King

     

  1. If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut….Every book has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.
  2.  

  3. There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level…there’s stuff in there that will change your life.
  4.  

  5. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do….What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.
  6.  

  7. Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot…You can only learn by doing. For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind.
  8.  

  9. I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words. If the moment of quickening is to come, it comes at the level of the paragraph. It is a marvelous and flexible instrument that can be a single word long or run on for pages…You must learn to use it well if you are to write well. What this means is lots of practice; you have to learn the beat.
  10.  

  11. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?
  12.  

  13. A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable. Purists hate to hear that and will deny it to their dying breath, but it’s true. Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes…
  14.  

  15. I predict you will succeed swimmingly…if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave. Honesty in storytelling makes up for a great many stylistic faults…but lying is the unrepairable fault.
  16.  

  17. Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling in my mind’s eye, an eye whose vision grows sharper the more it is used. I call it a mental eye because that’s the phrase with which we’re all familiar but what I actually want to do is open all my senses.
  18.  

  19. As with all other aspects of narrative art, you will improve with practice, but practice will never make you perfect. Why should it? What fun would that be? And the harder you try to be clear and simple, the more you will learn about the complexity of our American dialect. It be slippery, precious; aye, it be very slippery indeed. Practice the art, always reminding yourself that your job is to say what you see, and then to get on with your story.

 
 

Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Grounding, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Grounding, vintage lamp inside the vault at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Post Script — On Spinning: I wrote this a week ago Sunday and have since gotten back on track with my projects. It’s good to have resources to turn to when I feel like I’m spinning. And to believe that the tide will turn, even when I am rejecting my own process. Writing is the art of rebellion — then snapping back into place. Replace the nail with a spike, and keep on writing. One day at a time; it’s not a race. Eventually, my work will be finished.

 
Footnote — A Little About Yo-yos:  One more historical tidbit I stumbled upon while adding the links on this post. Yo-yos and Slinkys (listen to the Slinky song here!) were popular toys when I was growing up. Did you know that the slip string that lets the yo-yo “sleep” at the bottom was a Filipino innovation? And that “Reach for the Moon,” “Loop the Loop,” and many more tricks in the familiar repertoire of yo-yo virtuosos were created by a group of professional demonstrators, mostly Filipino, hired by the Duncan Yo-Yo Company during the U.S. Great Depression?

The Duncan Yo-Yo Company started in 1929 when entrepreneur Donald F. Duncan Sr. purchased the Flores Yo-Yo Company from Filipino immigrant Pedro Flores. Check out the film of 77-year-old Nemo Concepcion, one of the first yo-yo demonstrators and originator of many yo-yo tricks. The film Yoyo Man was made in 1978 by filmmaker John Melville Bishop. Here’s a link to the film guide for Yoyo Man from Documentary Educational Resources.

 
 
-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 15th, 2009

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By Teri Blair


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

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




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

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




height="225"

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





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

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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

 

 

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

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




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

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





 
___________________________________________

 

Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back

by Bill Holm


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

 

___________________________________________

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




 

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

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

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

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

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