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Posts Tagged ‘Taos’

letting go
Letting Go, one of the themes at the Natalie Goldberg silent retreat in Taos, December 2010,  collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 
 
 

It was strange to find myself sitting in the zendo at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, our teacher Natalie Goldberg urging us to Let Go. I had just a few weeks before made the decision to leave red Ravine, although QuoinMonkey and I had agreed to wait until the end of the year to make the announcement. Though not intended as such, the week in Taos could be a test of how ready I was to let go of this special virtual space that had inspired and sustained me for so long.
 
mabel's houseIt was in Taos, after all, that red Ravine was born. The year—2006. QM and I, having already written together for some time, are both participating in a four-season Intensive with Natalie Goldberg. This Intensive is part of a bigger plan I have for myself, a wannabe writer-and-artist withering away inside the body of a corporate manager and breadwinner for my family of four. I am bored and unhappy. I want to write and do art, but I can’t seem to motivate myself to do much with either except to dream about it. QM and I and a couple of others hatch red Ravine over intense working sessions in Taos and through the phone lines while back at our respective homes. Setting up a blog is hard work, but it is also real. For the first time, I am motivated to do more than fantasize about writing and making art. red Ravine promises to be the impetus to actually producing. 
 
Those first two years of creating red Ravine, QM and I worked our butts off and had a blast doing it. The blog was a perfect outlet for the deep, low creative growl that the Intensive seemed to unleash within us. Some days we posted more than once, and often we had to make sure that we weren’t publishing over one another. For my part, I was making art like crazy. After years of being fearful of the lack of control inherent in a brush (as compared to a pencil), I took a workshop at Ghost Ranch and learned to paint. My corporate job changed around the same time, too. I landed an assignment that took me back and forth to Vietnam. I bought myself a slew of different colored inking pens and began using the long trips back and forth as opportunity to take on a doodling practice.

QuoinMonkey and I worked surprisingly well together. We were both committed to the idea of a creating a space where we would each be inspired and where we might inspire others. She brought to red Ravine and to me her strong values around Community and Giving Back. Her thoughtful and thorough turtle complemented my quick and often irreverent spirit. (What animal am I anyway? The brown bird, I guess.) We found ourselves in synch whenever we wanted to try something new or make a change. We pushed each other to do our best.
 
 
what I learned

 
mabel's house 2 for red ravineOne of the things I love about Taos and Mabel’s place is how they never seem to change. Here I am, early December 2010, and I’m crossing the same flagstone patio that I walked those years ago back when red Ravine was still an infant. Over the past several years, I’ve brought my daughters here, and my husband. I bring my father back each year after we clean his parents’ graves in Costilla, 42 miles north. One summer he laid some of these very flagstones,when he was about 16 and living on Morada Lane in a house with a storefront.

It doesn’t matter what I have accomplished, what roles I have taken on in the years since I’ve been back. Inside the zendo, Natalie reminds us to Let Go. For me this means letting go of my responsibilities, my ego, any self-assigned self-importance. Here, in Taos, I am zero. In my raw, stripped-down state I feel my sadness. It is deep inside me, under everything else I carry. 

My heart breaks open.
 
Letting Go in Taos means being able to clearly see that red Ravine was, in fact, the catalyst for change in my life. It means being grateful for everything I’ve learned as a result of opening up to others. Because of red Ravine, I’ve had a place to publish my writing, to experiment with and share my art, to meet other writers and artists. red Ravine has been Muse, sounding board, supportive audience, friend, family, mentor.

I started a fledging business because of the creativity that flowed out, thanks to red Ravine. Because of this blog I’ve learned to commit to and follow through with my practices; to make jewelery; to turn unpolished writing into finished pieces; to put my creative self out into the world. I used to think I couldn’t finish anything; it took having this blog to realize that I’m an actualizer at heart. 

Of course, there are downsides to setting and realizing intentions. Jim long ago gave up complaining when I’d spend hours socked away in my writing room. But I don’t take for granted any more, not since April of this year when he collapsed on the bed clutching his heart, that he will always be there waiting when I need to take a break. And my daughters—full-fledged teenagers! Just today I accompanied my oldest for nearly an hour while she drove us all around town, adding experience under her belt in preparation for graduating from learners permit to drivers license. I don’t have much time left to influence their lives.

 
 
letting go

 

la morada (taos)At the December retreat, we walk the dirt trail out at the morada, just down the way from Mabel’s place. Natalie often takes her students there. The day we go, boys and men from Taos Pueblo run past us in the cold air. I feel alone and sheltered in my layers of warmth, and for a moment I am homesick for family and our traditions

My parents are old now. They’ve passed from the stage of old-yet-mostly-healthy to being old-and-frighteningly-frail. I visit them every Sunday. All year long I struggle to keep up with everything I have on my plate. Some weeks it feels impossible to eke out even the simplest of posts.

QM is a rock. Her posts are—like her—consistently high-quality, thorough, and deep. I am honored to have worked with her for this long.

A good friend of mine who a few years back started up his own blog had this to say when I told him I was thinking of leaving red Ravine: “Blogging has no exit strategy.” Which is another way of saying that unless you’re getting paid to do it, blogging is a labor of love. This particular labor has born much fruit. 

It has so much more potential, so much yet to become. I’m going to be here, on the other side of the screen, cheering on QM to keep moving it forward. I know I’ll always be proud to say I was a part of creating it.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, QM. Thank you to the friends I’ve met here. So long for now. See you in Comments. 8)
 
 

 

self portrait
Self Portrait, December 2010, collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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sit walk write in Taos
Sit Walk Write Fly in Taos, pigeon coop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, December 2010, collage made of magazine paper, wax crayons, and pen and ink in Moleskine journal, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.










Joy is s i t   w a l k  w r i t e
with Mabel’s pigeons in Taos
learning how to  f l y












-Related to posts WRITING TOPIC – JOY and haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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then…


jumping jack wagon
Jumping Jack Wagon (in June), wagon at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, June 2008, photo © 2008-2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





and now…


jumping jack wagon in winter
Jumping Jack Wagon in March, wagon at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, March 21, 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





-Related to posts Homing Instinct (in which the photo “Jumping Jack Wagon” first appeared) and Sunrise On Taos Mountain (Reflections On Writing Retreats), which includes a summary of several Taos-related posts on red Ravine.

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Antique Stove (Fire), D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Antique Cooler (Metal), D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.View From The Lawrence Ranch (Air), D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Frieda Lawrence's 1930s Home (Wood), D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Turtle Window, D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OKeeffe From A Distance, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Memory Of Georgia (Earth), D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Attention To Detail, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Elements: Fire, Air, Earth, Metal, Water, & Wood, Kiowa, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I have lived most of my life near major rivers: the Savannah, the Susquehanna, the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot rivers that run through the deep mountain valley of Missoula, Montana. But for the last 24 years, home has been near the Mississippi in a Midwest state that boasts the river’s birthplace – Lake Itasca, Minnesota.

Liz and I explored Itasca State Park a few years ago and stood at the source, the Mississippi Headwaters, on root clusters of some of the oldest Red and White Pines in this country. Closer to my Southern roots, I recently started reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, part of The Family Twain published in 1935, an original volume bought at a garage sale last summer.

If you follow the river’s flow, you will gain a whole new respect for Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) who published more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories and essays, and gave lectures while touring the world. That’s part of the reason my ears perked up at a recent NPR piece, Finding Finn, when I heard writer Jon Clinch plea for financial support to help preserve the financially-strapped Mark Twain Home in Hartford, Connecticut.


Clinch, author of Finn, and a host of other writers gathered at the home in September and read from some of their favorite Twain books to show their support. The list of authors included such heavy hitters as Tom Perrotta (The Abstinence Teacher), David Gates (Jernigan), Arthur Phillips (Angelica), Tasha Alexander (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Philip Beard (Dear Zoe), Kristy Kiernan (Matters of Faith), Robert Hicks (The Widow of the South), and Amy Mackinnon (Tethered).

Maybe you’re thinking, what’s this got to do with me?

Everything. Maybe for you, it’s not Mark Twain. But have you ever seen Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, then longed to visit Abiquiú or the Pedernal near Ghost Ranch, New Mexico? It throws a whole other perspective on a lifetime of painted desert. What about Hemingway’s early days in Kansas City, Missouri. Or Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home in Savannah, Georgia.



D. H. Lawrence Cabin at Kiowa, the Lawrence Ranch near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Maybe for you, it’s visiting the home architect Frank Lloyd Wright built, Fallingwater near Mill Run, Pennsylvania, or a few nights in the Willa Cather room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (did you know ybonesy’s dad worked there one summer as a teenager?) in Taos, New Mexico. We had one red Ravine Guest who dreamed about the home of Frida Kahlo. It was such a powerful experience, she felt compelled to travel to Mexico and see it for herself.

Why? Because Place matters. Ground where writers, painters, architects, artists and visionaries lived, worked, and died matters. The places we call Home shape who we are, who we want to be, who we will become. North, South, East, or West, the geography of land, water, and sky influences our work, filters into our vision, helps us hone our craft, whether we are aware of it or not. And the preservation of these places is paramount to our own development as writers and artists.



Turtle Window, D.H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.OKeeffe From A Distance, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Memory Of Georgia (Earth), D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Attention To Detail, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



While researching On Providence, Old Journals and Thoreau, I stumbled on the Walden Woods Project which was founded in 1990 by recording artist Don Henley. At the time, 60% of Walden Woods – a 2,680 acre ecosystem surrounding Thoreau’s Walden Pond – was protected from development. But two large tracts of land were endangered when developers sought to construct an expansive office and condominium complex in the mid-1980s. The National Trust for Historic Preservation twice listed Walden Woods as one of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places.

But the story has a happy ending. The Walden Woods Project embarked on a national campaign to raise public awareness and the funds necessary to purchase and preserve the endangered areas. In January 1991, the Project bought the 25-acre tract that had been slated for the development; a few years later, the second tract of land was acquired. Since then, they’ve protected 150 acres in and around Walden Woods and provided quality programming for hundreds of researchers and more than 200 high school teachers and students.

Just Sitting, D. H. Lawrence Chair at Kiowa, the Lawrence Ranch near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I’ve walked around Walden Pond, stood in the doorway to Thoreau’s cabin. I’ve been to Hibbing, Minnesota, in the living room of Bob Dylan’s childhood home. And a few years ago, ybonesy and I took a day trip to Kiowa, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch outside of Taos, New Mexico. The place was given to Lawrence and Frieda by Mabel Dodge Luhan. Dorothy Brett lived there for a time using Aldous Huxley’s typewriter to type Lawrence’s manuscripts.

Georgia O’Keeffe sat under the giant pine outside the Lawrence cabin and immortalized it in paint forever. Would you rather read about the Lawrence Tree? Or touch its barky skin, slide your feet through the pine needle beds beneath it, stare upside down at the New Mexico stars and sky.


To be able to go back to the place a writer or artist worked and lived is an inspiration. The authors calling attention to Mark Twain’s home in Hartford are sounding the alarm. Not everyone has the resources to donate money, but we can all work to raise awareness by spreading the word. Or visit the homes of writers and artists in the areas where we live and travel.

Those who blazed the trail before us are our mentors. For Jon Clinch, it’s Mark Twain. He’s willing to donate time, money, and energy to save Twain’s home and preserve the literary legacy of place. Who is it for you?




New Mexico Homesteaders, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Corrugated Ice (Water), D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Love Triangles, D. H. Lawrence Ranch, near Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



The Mark Twain House & Museum
351 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105
860-247-0998



Other links to explore:


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 24th, 2008

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Collective Soul at 2008 Taos Solar Music Festival
Collective Bliss, Collective Soul at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.



Here are my souvenirs from Taos — numbness in my right ear and sore calves. Plus, that good kind of exhaustion you get from a night of dancing outdoors, near the stage, to the beat of your favorite band.

We spent the weekend at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival. It’s a three-day, multi-band, two-stage event held in Kit Carson Park. Dee and Em’s first concert, not counting local gigs where no one would even think of lighting up a joint. No, Taos caused me pause — Do I even mention what that smell is?


Ed Roland from Collective SoulI didn’t. Instead, I danced to the fabulous band who in the mid-1990s gave us “December,” the song I swear I wanted to record so I could play it on continuous loop during labor.

Soulful. That’s a good way to describe lead singer Ed Gould’s voice. He hails from Stockbridge, GA, son of a Southern Baptist minister. And I couldn’t believe I finally got to hear him in person. Twelve years I’ve been carrying around those lyrics, buying up CDs, and belting tunes in my car.






Define bliss: (outside-of-ten-years-if-they’re-lucky) middle-aged singers reaming strings and throwing microphone stands, wearing tight jeans and blowing kisses to their (assuming-we’re-all-destined-to-be-centenarian) middle-aged fans.

I danced my socks off, shook like I was possessed, rattled my arms in the air, whooped, hollered, whistled myself and everyone around me temporarily deaf, and caused my children to wonder, Is this what they mean when they say someone is speaking in tongues?

My one saving grace? I wasn’t wearing a leather halter top.



Sweet Nectar

It was only natural that Jim, the Hummingbird Whisperer, would be mesmerized two bands earlier by the liquid flute of native son Robert Mirabal, who hails from Taos Pueblo. A man with a message, Mirabal thanked us for bringing our children. Not me and Jim directly, but all of us Glad-Bag-for-raincoats parents and grandparents.

Kids need music. “They hold the future in their hands,” he said. I shivered, stared up at the sky and wondered if the rest of the bands would get rained out.

Then he sang a Circle Song and laughed away the wind, bringing us a still night.


Robert Mirabal   Robert Mirabal
Circle Song, Robert Mirabal at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.



Neither Jim nor I (nor anyone in the audience) could keep our eyes off of Silvana Kane, the Peruvian-born singer of Canadian band Pacifika. This woman was pure beauty, inside and out.

“Qué linda las mujeres de Taos,” she cooed. “How beautiful the women of Taos are, dancing in their skirts.”

We chanted back: “Qué linda!”



 

    
Beautiful Spirit, Pacifika at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photos © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.



Swimming Down Morada Lane

We stayed at Casa Benavides — the Mabel Dodge Luhan House was full — and what a delight! Homemade granola, yogurt, and fruit as first course at breakfast, along with coffee so strong that even half-and-half couldn’t tame it. Baked goods, French toast, waffles, an egg quiche smothered in red or green.

And another round of baked anything-you-crave from 3-6 pm. Afternoon tea, Taos-style.

From our patio we could hear the music almost as well as if we were at the concert, so we took many walks down Morada Lane, from the park to the inn and back again.

The girls rested, played cards, watched cable, ate lemon bars and pecan pie. Jim and I walked, rested, rocked, rested. Besides the bands mentioned here, we saw or heard Latino sounds, reggae, hip hop, and more.

If you asked my daughters what they loved the most, they might not mention the music. They might say, instead, that they liked shopping the best. Window shopping during our many rounds back and forth, but even better were the Fair Trade vendors at the festival. Tye-dye and sterling silver earrings and beads. Girls love beads.

So in between ice cream and burritos and roasted corn — festival food — not to mention tea, my daughters visited all the vendors many times. Each round, Dee and Em would return bearing bracelets or rings, bought with their own money. I helped Dee pick out her first two single earrings, which is to say, earrings worn without a partner. As in a third piercing, perhaps. Hmmm.



                



I loved being with my family doing something we all enjoyed, together and individually. Jim danced his Grateful-Dead-inspired shuffle and it was as if our pre-children lives suddenly merged with our post-children lives. Why hadn’t we thought of this before?

My favorite moment? Me in the mosh pit (well, Taos-style) swaying and shaking with friends and strangers; Jim and the girls a safe distance, watching and doing bopping of their own.



        
Folk Mandala, yarn laid into intricate pattern, seen at the Tenth Annual Taos Solar Music Festival, June 28, 2008, photo © 2008 by Jim. All rights reserved.



“I love Collective Soul, Mom,” Dee tells me as we make our way back to our room.

“You dance like this, Mom,” Em giggles and wiggles her little body as she navigates the sidewalk, throwing her arms this way and that.

I can tell the girls see me anew. For once I’m not just Mom. I’m one with the music, one night in Taos.

That and shin splints.


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Shadow Of A Bridge, looking out from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, outside of Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Tri-X, black and white film photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Shadow Of A Bridge (The Journey), looking out from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, outside of Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, C-41 color film photo © 2003-2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



 I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

                                                      ~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.






-related to post: WRITING TOPIC — MARTIN LUTHER KING

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Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Afternoon Meditation, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In writing practice this morning, ybonesy and I both wrote about sitting in solidarity with our writing friends at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos. Most Decembers, Natalie holds a writing retreat during the period Mabel's Gate - Taos Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.around December 1st through December 8th. In Zen, this time is called Rohatsu Sesshin and marks the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.

Rohatsu means in classical Japanese twelve-eight, because December eighth is celebrated in the Far East as the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Zoketsu Norman Fisher from Green Gulch Farm (in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi) explains Rohatsu Sesshin something like this:

Sesshin is about pulling our whole life together — right here into this one body and mind and right here on this little square of black cushion. All of our life, past, present and future, is right here and right now. Our whole life. All our many lives. All of everyone’s life. The life of the planet. The life of the stars. All that we are and all that everyone is and was and wanted to be but couldn’t be. All our successes and failures. All we wanted and didn’t want. All we overlooked and grieved over and lusted over and abandoned. None of that is elsewhere. It’s all right here right now on this cushion.

Of all the sesshins of the year this one is the most intense of all because it’s the one…that imitates the Buddha’s time of sitting under the enlightenment tree. So in a way our whole sesshin is a kind of ceremony of enactment of this event and we are all playing the Buddha under the Buddha’s tree, enacting an event that happened almost two thousand five hundred years ago. Two thousand five hundred is just one of the many ways of saying right now. Right now, actually, Right Now, as you are listening to words that I am speaking, Buddha is sitting under the Bodhi tree making strong effort for awakening. In each and every one of your bodies, in each and every pore of each and every one of your bodies, there are infinite Buddhas — each one, right now as I’m speaking, literally and actually making this kind of effort.

        

        Slow Walking, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.            Winter Fire, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Slow Walking (left), Winter Fire (right), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s a time of deep practice, a time where we enter the cave-like darkness of winter and look inwardly to the truth of the existence of our own Buddha Nature, and the awakened nature of all beings.


Mabel's Lights, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, Feb 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Mabel’s Lights II, second in series, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


But sitting in Taos is not about Zen. People of all faiths and religions come to study with Natalie. It is about practice. Beginner’s Mind. About repetition and opening. It is about getting out of your own way, vowing to make greater effort, to go the extra mile, and through that effort, trying to requite a debt of gratitude to those, in life and in Spirit, who have helped us along the way.


Becoming The Mountain, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM, February 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

In Taos, we practice sitting, walking, and writing. We sit like the mountain. We anchor our breath to the bottom of our feet. We chant and sing. We are silent. We write.


The practice of our writing is backed by a 2500 year old tradition of watching the mind. It is powerful. At times, life changing. We are grateful to Natalie for creating writing practice, for the gift of her teachings, for passing them down to us.


Many of our writing friends are sitting in Taos:  sitting, walking, practicing, deepening, learning the true secret of writing. ybonesy and I wanted to hold a place for them. We sit with them in quiet reflection and community. And in doing so, we sit with the world.


Not to be attached to external forms, not to be unsettled within, not to think this and that, not to be cluttered with extraneous things, not to think about gain and loss and whether we are happy or sad. This can be called Zen.
   -Shodo Harada Roshi

If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Key To Mabel's, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Key To Mabel’s (in repetition), Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Mountain is mountain and earth is earth
That’s all.
You shouldn’t say anything extra.
You should not put any fancy decoration.
Mountain is mountain, that’s all.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.
   -Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

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By Joanne Hunt


Agnes Martin Room, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.
Agnes Martin Room, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.


Dear Agnes,

I’m back in Taos. It’s February and as I slow-walked from Mabel Dodge this afternoon, I scuffed through snow still lying on the ground. I’ve paid my seven dollars to gain entry to the Harwood Museum but all I will visit today is you. I feel at home in this octagonal room. The four yellow wood benches clustered under the skylight in the center; simple in their symmetry. The horizontal golden hardwood planks that run across the floor soothe and ground your work. I am, as ever, stunned by the seven linen canvases that surround me.

I am sitting in my usual place on the floor leaned against the white wall next to the absent eighth wall that forms the canopied entrance. I am wearing my faded black cotton pants and shirt. I don’t think you’ve seen me in anything but black. Few people have. I have been doing sitting practice in the zendo at Mabel’s for many hours today. I feel still and wide and ready for you.

As I look out at your paintings, these incredible 5’ X 5’ canvasses of pale blue and white, I am both deeply content and anguished. I won’t be back to visit for awhile – probably not until December. It is a difficult good bye because I have been coming here every three months for a year. I’ve gotten used to these trips to the Harwood. Like a trip to a favourite church or synagogue where you can sit forever in some form of prayer or communion. Silent. Unmoving. This room is as familiar to me as the zendo in my own home. This is my sixth visit and I am still awed to sit here.

It has been three years since that first November afternoon when I walked into this room, felt my lungs contract and my body hit the floor as my knees buckled. Gasping and wide eyed I looked around the room, overcome with emotion. I crawled over to this spot against the wall and carefully gazed out while steadying my shaking body. I have never had a painter’s work strike me so deeply. Each time I come here to sit and write, I can feel myself preparing to walk again into this room. Each time you hold a mirror up to me. Like an aunt who sees her niece once a year and registers how much she’s grown in a way that parents can’t. I see myself and where my writing is during each visit here. With each trip to Taos, this room is my Writer’s barometer.

I don’t want to leave Taos. I don’t want to head home. I have let my life get fuzzy. Cluttered up. Too much. Too full. When I get back to Ottawa, I am going to clear out some of the piles to make room. I am not sure what I am making room for but I will do it anyway. I want to live cleanly like you. Clear. Crisp. No distractions. I want to live directly. Single-pointed. Nothing extra.

Agnes, is there anything you want to tell me?


 Ordinary Happiness, Taos, New Mexico, crop of an Agnes Martin Painting, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Ordinary Happiness, crop of Agnes Martin painting, Ordinary Happiness, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Yes, Joanne
You can do it.

Don’t be so hard on yourself and be ruthless too. I threw out all my early paintings and I never regretted it. I hadn’t found my form. I needed to clear everything out. Some art is going to have to die in your book in order to bring clarity. Don’t be afraid to get rid of stuff.

Don’t be afraid to move to smaller canvases.
Don’t make excuses.
Don’t explain.
Don’t justify.
Do what you need to do.

Not everyone will love your art. Some people don’t like mine. They just see stripes. Oh, and by the way, they are just stripes. Don’t make them such a big deal.

They’re No Big Deal and they’re a Very Big Deal.
Both.

Just like how you wrote the two sides of your aspiration on the altar in the zendo this week. On one side of your folded piece of paper: No Big Deal. On the other side: Very Big Deal. You got it right. It is always both.

Joanne, blue is a happy colour. Now I know that makes you want to cry because you’re not very good at being happy yet. You’ll get better. All these things you already have:

Lovely Life
Love
Friendship
Perfect Day
Ordinary Happiness
Innocence
Playing

These are not just the names of the seven paintings. These things are present in your life. Right now. Blue is an ordinary, happy colour.

Ordinary Happiness is the kind of happiness I’m talking to you about. The wild kind of happiness comes and goes. It rolls in and out like a storm. Ordinary Happiness has staying power.

You have kept coming to visit me all these years in your travels to Taos; you have sat and written in this room of rounded edges and light in the middle. You can go now. I’m inside you. You don’t have to wonder about when you’ll be back to visit. You can visit anytime. Even in the middle of teaching. I am not separate from you.

Joanne, I want to speak directly to your search for something bigger. You have been troubled about what you call your “lack of faith.” I know that you want to rest in something bigger than you, trust something bigger than you and be held by something bigger than you. I think that’s good. It is good to be open and available to wider sources. But know this: You’re the one who has to get up and go to your desk each day. Trusting in something bigger than you does not bring you to your writing. You do. That bigger thing might meet you once you’re sitting there but it is does not provide the motivation or the propulsion. It meets you. You need to be ready. Like when you’re settled into the belly of your writing and Big Mind is flowing out of you so clearly, effortlessly, not seeking anything while your hand moves across the page for hours. You can trust that.

Did you hear me?
You can trust that.

Is that outside of you?
Or inside of you?
Is that that bigger than you?
Or just you?

It doesn’t matter. That’s not your concern. What matters is that you write. What matters is that you show up and wait to see what shows up to meet you.

I once sat still every day for three months waiting for an inspiration to arrive. Three months. Every day I waited. Still. Silent. I didn’t know if it would come or not. I didn’t have faith that it would come or not. It was my job to sit and wait. It came and I painted again. But I might not have. And that’s not the point – whether I ended up painting again or not – the point is that I knew what my job was. So: I did it.

It doesn’t have to do with faith, Joanne. It has to do with knowing that you’re a Writer. That’s your job. To show up and write. You get inspired. You use words to express it. I got an inspiration. I painted. You write, as truly as possible, to capture that inspiration. I painted to do the same.

Not in a tight way. But in a true way.

There’s math involved. And calculations. And measurements. And elegance. And simplicity. In the form and in the math. It isn’t all soft and mushy. There’s discipline and rigour and study and figuring it out but it is held in a soft hand. Clear. Steady.

I led a disciplined life, some say, like a Zen monk. I don’t know about all of that. I didn’t need much. None of us do. My paintings sold for more than a half a million dollars each. You are surrounded by $3.5 million dollars worth of art. Isn’t that something? How can Lovely Life be worth that much? Yet, should it be worth $20 million or $150 million or $50 bucks for the canvas?

That was not my job so I don’t know anything about those things. I tried to capture inspiration. Life is filled with beauty. Can you see it? Can you touch the beauty in your own life?

You are living too full up right now. Don’t despair. You can change it. One step. Then another. Sometimes I had too much too. It’s okay. Just start changing it each day. It won’t take long.

Pull out Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to remember why you chose this path.

I never stopped painting because I never stopped receiving inspiration. You will never stop writing and listening to music. You and music do have a special bond. It serves you well. And you hear well. Keep listening.

Spend more time in silence.
Walk more. While you can.

And don’t worry so much. It will all go fine because “fine” includes everything – all the stuff we call good or bad. It’s just stuff. It is being human. That’s all. You get to be a human so you get to have the stuff that human beings call good or bad. Don’t worry. You’ll get all the stuff that humans are supposed to get. That’s our true nature.

Let it come. Receive it. And let it pass. Don’t cling to it. The happiness or the sadness. Just notice the inspiration. Both inspire. That’s all.

There is just the living of a life and knowing that is what you are doing. A living of a life. So pay attention.

Top of mountain.
Middle of mountain.
Bottom of mountain.

Doesn’t matter. No need to decide.
The mountain will find you.

Take good care of yourself,
Agnes Martin



Agnes Martin, crop of Agnes Martin photo, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.About Agnes Martin, Joanne says: She was Canadian born in Maklin, Saskatchewan on March 22, 1912 and died in December 2004 at the age of 92 in Taos, New Mexico. She lived most of her last decades in Taos painting (or waiting for inspiration) until the end; she was dedicated to capturing the beauty in life.

Agnes said, ‘My paintings are about quiet happiness like the lightness of the morning…I look in my mind and I see composition.’ It is her simple clarity that left such an impression on me. I think that you have to have a really clean relationship with The Mind to paint the way she did. I want to write that way.


About this piece, Joanne says:  I was compelled to write a good-bye letter to Agnes that day in the Harwood at the end of a year long Writing Intensive. I asked her if she had anything to tell me. I thought that the response would be to sit in silence for awhile. I was surprised when I immediately drew a line on the page and my pen kept moving as the letter from Agnes emerged. It was calm and clear. I guess there were a few things she wanted me to know. I got out of the way and wrote until she was done. It came and went so easily. I slow-walked back to the zendo at Mabel’s that afternoon and read it aloud during our Reading Group. I was quite shocked. I still am.



Revisiting Agnes, Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico, August 2007, photo © 2007 by Kevin Moul. All rights reserved.About Joanne:  Joanne just returned from an August trip to Taos where she got to surprise Agnes with another visit. Kevin Moul stumbled upon Joanne sitting in her usual place on the floor writing and took the photos of her there.

Besides sitting for hours on the floor of an art gallery channelling Agnes, Joanne is the founder of an Integral Coaching® Training School in Ottawa, Canada with her partner and beloved wife, Laura. You can read some of her Perspectives and Articles in the Resources section of their web site at Integral Coaching Canada. She is ruthlessly working on her first book while trying to write more in coffee shops rather than pubs where her libation of choice is a Guinness. She is Irish after all.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 27th, 2007

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Mabel's Dining Room, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Nexico, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Mabel’s Dining Room, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, July 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s summer at Mabel’s. The wind whipped through the cottonwoods after a hot, muggy day. I was drenched in sweat while giving the presentation on When the Emperor Was Divine. And then, the rain came. A quick shower from blackened skies. The afternoon winds visit each day. And the light. How do I describe the light?

The photograph is from last Saturday, the day I arrived in Taos. I have been so swamped, and dead on my feet at the end of each day, that I haven’t had time to take photos since Day 1.

Tomorrow we walk to the Harwood Museum of Art (it used to be a library and is one of the places where Natalie Goldberg wrote Banana Rose) to see the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit. He’s mentioned in Natalie’s book, In Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World. It’s one of my favorite books by Natalie. The colors are bold and alive; the paper is slick and thick. The book feels good in the hands. The writing speaks for itself.

We’ve talked a lot about the visual aspects of writing this week. How to capture details the way an artist captures color, shadow, form, and light on the palette. There has been community (there are 57 attending) and tons of writing practice. Slow walking and meditation in the morning. Thursday we go to the Rio Grande for a swim. I automatically go into that deeper silent place when I walk from the Gatehouse to the Juniper House where the class meets. It feels like coming home.

It’s almost midnight. And I’m sitting in Mabel’s dining room, clacking away at the keys. I am the only one on the lower floor of the adobe. Writers and artists sleep above. I’m tired. And, in a minute, I will lock up and walk over to my room, hopefully for a good night’s sleep. My dreams are always full here. Sometimes strange. And there are nights when they wake me up.

Natalie says we dream more here because the mind knows we are open to receiving what might come.  So it gives us what we are ready for.  I think it’s that – and the ancestors; they are closer to earth in this place. I am grateful for Natalie’s teachings. And for what she has taught me about teaching. And about writing. Each time I come here, I get closer to something or someone I know is at the heart of me.

Grrrrrrr. I’m gritting my teeth and pounding my heart with balled fists. I want it. I am here. And I want it.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

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I found these haiku in the pages of a notebook I was rereading from August of 2006. Has it really been almost a year? They were written at Ghost Ranch when I got separated from the writing group after lingering too long at the pond. I sat on the prickly ground, alone and silent, chewing on a bite of apple, steam from a soggy T-shirt rising in the dry heat.

I sat for 10 minutes. And then wrote these haiku. I’m posting them in solidarity for my friend at Ghost Ranch. I have a clear visual of the open space where she is painting, the yellow pond (it’s green to me), and the path up Box Canyon. The wind – it’s swirling around in my head. I’m racing around trying to get packed. I’ll be in Albuquerque sometime tonight. Then on to Taos.

It will be good to be back in New Mexico. And at the same time, I long to be home.


 13 haiku


the cottonwood wind
floods by me in an instant
shade next to my back

the dragon fly flits
over the lime green water
my back to a tree

lizard on a rock
doesn’t seem glad to see me
ducks into a hole

red rocks rise skyward
desert breeze shakes the cedars
next to the green pond

gold fish swims by me
startles my shivering breath
then leads the way home

leaf winding slowly
yellow wasp on white flower
bobbing to and fro

leaf lands on the pond
the cottonwood is silent
a ripple swims out

big hole in the sky
a dragonfly flew through it
and left me alone

the twisted bark wraps
its thigh around the red ghosts
soaked next to dry bones

blue sky sparkles green
through wind in the cottonwoods
ants fight for a crumb

the wind smells like sage
I sit next to an ant pile
pray not to get bit

rock towers flood through
the blue dragonfly’s four wings
I watch from the side

hairy bumblebee
black diamond down its soft back
sucks on a flower

-haiku from a writing practice at Ghost Ranch, August 2006

Friday, July 6th, 2007

-related to posts, What I Remember About Writing A Taste of Ghost Ranch, NM

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Got Your Back, Taos, New Mexico, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-Got Your Back, Taos, New Mexico, April 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Monday, June 25th, 2007

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Holding My Breath - Water, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, from the Holding My Breath series, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved

-Holding My Breath – Water, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, from the Holding My Breath series, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved


 - PRACTICE – Holding My Breath – 10min

Friday, May 4th, 2007

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Tagged, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, from the Holding My Breath series, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved

 -Holding My Breath – Wind, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, from the Holding My Breath series, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved


- PRACTICE – Holding My Breath – 10min

Friday, May 4th, 2007

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Caffe Tazza, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved

-The Good Stuff’s In Here, Caffe, Tazza, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved


From my Great Places to Write series. The light is right, the cast of characters stimulating, the air is full of French roast, artists, poets, and musicians. You can sit inside or out. And they don’t care if you walk in to just sit in silence. If you’re ever in Taos, this is one of the places to write.

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

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Mabel’s Lights, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February, 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved

-Mabel’s Lights, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, February 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, from the Wake Up series, all rights reserved


For all the writers who are meeting soon to write, read, listen, and keep the connections going. Here’s to community.


 Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

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My visceral response to your sketch of Dirty Dog and Retro Wallpaper is black dog – the Black Dog of loneliness. Late at night in Taos, the silence would waken me. But it wasn’t silence; it was the dogs of Taos barking in the distance. Dogs have always scared me. And when we walk Morada Lane from Mabel’s to go into Caffe Tazza to write, I’m always aware of the dogs, lurking around fence corners.

A friend in art school started a series of paintings the year we graduated. She called it her Black Dog series. She was obsessed with research on black dogs. It took me a while to understand what she was talking about. But when I saw her brooding wall-sized images, I knew. It was a gut reaction. Deep loneliness. I visit the place often. There is no map out. You have to find your own way. She painted. I took photographs. We weren’t running. We were looking to know the Dog.

What I want to say is that loneliness is a part of writing. And sometimes loneliness feels like Dirty Dog looks – bared teeth, facing off, marking territory. Underneath, the loneliness drives me. Like fear, I’ve learned to embrace it. Even when my life is so good I can’t stand it – even then, late at night when the whole house is sleeping, and I’m up writing – the Black Dog is there, lurking around fence corners.

I still wake up in the middle of the night, scared and lonely. I try not to push it away. The last few weeks, I’ve been listening to Writing Down the Bones on CD. What I love about books on CD is that I hear the writer’s voice. I first read it almost 20 years ago. Revisiting it now, I am taken back to Beginner’s Mind, where I need to be to teach. It grounds me. I find comfort in the gnarled roots of other writers’ loneliness.

I’m tired. I’ve really been pushing myself the last few weeks. On the way to work this morning, I realized I wasn’t in my body. I almost hit Liz’s car backing out of the driveway. Looking for ground, I pushed the button on the Alpine stereo; I glanced up to see the sun rising in billowing blush clouds in the distance; I listened to a writer read her work. The early sky reminded me of mornings walking from my room at Mabel’s to the zendo. A deep calm came over me.

Stopped at the light on the corner of Winnetka and Bass Lake Road, crawling to my day job, I was just sitting. Natalie was revisiting the chapter on Engendering Compassion and the way she used to be tortured by loneliness. But something had turned. The dog doesn’t come for her anymore. She seeks him out. She hunts the dog.

The last thing I heard as I turned the corner on green -

“When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.”

Listen for the Black Dog.


Thursday, March 15th, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19th, 2007

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