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Posts Tagged ‘not being tossed away’

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.



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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.




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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?

 

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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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