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Posts Tagged ‘the practice of writing’

By Bob Chrisman

When I was eight, I received a new robin’s egg blue, girl’s bike for my birthday in May. I had selected that particular bike at the shop in the South End where we lived. I wanted a girl’s bicycle so I wouldn’t hurt myself every time I slid off the seat when I stopped. That always happened on boy’s bicycles and kept me from enjoying riding.

My father looked at the price tag and shook his head. “I don’t think we can afford this much. Let me talk with your mother.”

At eight years old, I had already heard that one phrase, “I don’t think we can afford this much” so often that I knew I would never own the bike I wanted. That’s the way things worked in my family: you didn’t get what you couldn’t afford and we couldn’t afford much at all.

On the morning of my birthday I ate my breakfast and opened my birthday cards. When I asked if I had any presents, my mother rolled the bicycle I’d picked out into the kitchen. “Your daddy and I decided that you were old enough to have this, even though it cost more than we would usually spend for a present. You’ve got to take good care of it. Okay?”

I leapt out of my chair and grabbed the bike before it vanished. Only when I held the handlebars in my own hands was it real. I had the bike I wanted.

Later that morning I opened the screen door and made sure to pull the bike out before the door slammed. I took it down all the stairs to the sidewalk and rolled it down the hill until I reached Ozark Street which was flat and graveled. Only then did I climb on my new bike and pedal along the street with the wind in my face. I felt so happy and so proud.

My friends congregated up the street and I rode my new bike up there to visit with them and show them my birthday present.

When I arrived, one of the boys said, “Hey, Bobby, why you got a girl’s bike? You a sissy?”

“No, I wanted a girl’s bike because it’s easier to get on and off. That’s why.”

“No, you’re a sissy. He’s a sissy, isn’t he?”

Everyone laughed.

Then the kid said, “I want to ride your sissy bike.”

“No, you can’t. It’s brand new. I just got it and I want to ride it for awhile before anyone else does.” I held on tight to the handlebars.

“Hey, sissy, that’s not very nice. But, I don’t want to ride a blue girl’s bike anyway.”

I turned around to ride home. The kids screamed names at me as I rode away. I’d reached the end of the block when a clunk sounded on my rear fender. A cheer went up from the kids. I crossed the intersection and started pushing the bicycle up the hill. When I was out of sight of my friends, I looked at the rear fender. Someone had thrown a big rock and dented and scraped a place on my new bike. I lost it. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, but I pushed the bike up the hill, up the stairs and parked it on the porch.

My mother came running out of the house. “What’s wrong? Did you fall?”

I couldn’t speak so I pointed at the rear fender. My mother looked at the damage. “So that’s what you’re crying about? For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bicycle.”

No, it was so much more than that.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

An old friend called on her way back home from a weekend with her partner, son, and grandson. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Maybe the good news will soften the bad.”

“I didn’t expect you to say that. Here goes. The doctor found that I have endometrial cancer, undifferentiated. They have caught it at a very early stage.”

I stopped listening to her for awhile. The “C” word causes my stomach to clinch and the muscles in my neck to tighten. I’ve heard it too often in conversations with my women friends. Lost two of them to aggressive tumors that spread throughout their bodies.

But I focus too much on the losses and not on the wins. A friend diagnosed with breast cancer has remained cancer-free for 12 years. Other women have recovered completely from cancer of various organs. I’m thankful for those successes, very grateful.

My mind returns to the recurrences I’ve seen. A woman twelve years post treatment for a brain tumor has learned within the last two weeks that her cancer has returned. This time the doctor said she will die, but that’s what he said the last time and she lived for another twelve years.

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I had thought by the time I did this Writing Practice, we would be well into the green of Spring and Winter would have died a slow death. It’s green. But on the second day of May it dropped to 30 degrees. Ice crystals fell from the sky and pinged the windshield. I am still bundled in fleece, pulling a high collar up around the scruff of my neck to keep warm. Nature is unpredictable. So is the nature of one’s death. It happens that on the week we are writing about death and dying on red Ravine, Osama bin Laden would meet his demise. I feel no joy in his death. It is a strange mix of emotions, more like confusion and relief.

I remember the writing workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico right after September 11th. She thought about canceling it but decided it was important to go ahead. It was a large group, over 50 writers, a talking workshop. The first night we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what it was like for each of us on September 11th. Some lived in New York, some had lost loved ones. I was more removed from the immediate impact. But it changed our country forever. Oddly, I don’t want to write about it. Not now. I will leave it for those whose voices ring with more certainty about what it all means. I can’t put labels on it. The whole ten years and two wars mostly makes me sad.

The older I get and the closer to death, the more I think about it. I can’t predict its time, but I can dedicate my life to living while I am on God’s green Earth. I listened to an interview with Janis Ian before seeing her in concert at the Fitzgerald last week. She had gotten very sick, and thought she may die in middle age. She said her thoughts on death before her illness were that she would take the time she had left to write songs, to write the perfect poem set to music. But when the time actually came, when she thought her life would be cut short, all she wanted to do was sit on the porch with her partner and watch the birds. To be close to her loved ones. That’s all that mattered.

It reminds me that I’m not going to be on my deathbed thinking about how hard I worked at all the jobs I have had over the years. It’s not likely I’ll be thinking of co-workers, the people with whom I’ve spent a majority of my daylight hours. I am more likely to want to spend time with Liz, stay close to home, hang out with the cats. I am more likely to want to go visit my mother and close family, to spend the time with friends I know I can trust. Friends with which I can share my deepest fears about dying and death.

There are moments when death doesn’t scare me. Late nights, when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep, I do feel the fear. I try to befriend my idea of Death. It changes like the seasons. I do believe that life goes on after death. I find some comfort in that. I don’t have to get it right the first time. There can be second chances. But life will never be like the one I have right now, in this one moment. This is my life. I want to make the most of it while I am here.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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Joy Is, Joy Is Not, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The days are dark, the nights long. Five days until Winter Solstice. Holidays draw us to friends and family, gift giving, service work. I want to go inside. Reflective heat, ambient light. Darkroom blues. I have spent hours under red safelights in black and white darkrooms. What color is Joy?

At times when there is the least light, we need to find ways to tap more joy. I look to the small things. Sunrise, Tuesday morning. Snowstorm, Friday night. Digging out. Digging deep. An old recipe. A new flame. Joy takes many forms. Clay dangling from red string. One new liver. Two hibernating black bears. Three things I am grateful for.

Some are afraid to feel the full strength of Joy. The intensity makes them fearful. What if Joy leaves in the middle of the night. How will I fill the hole.

What brings you joy?

Joy is a giant taproot of swirling lava at the center of the Earth. Joy is a burning ember in the middle of an indigo night. Behind every Black Dog, Joy sits like the mountain.

Write I feel joy at the top of your Writing Practice notebook. Or sink into the underbelly — I don’t feel joy

Joy is, Joy is not. Ten minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

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Sunrise On Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County

Sunrise On Lake Michigan, Bob walking 10,000 steps on the beach, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sitting, walking, writing with the Midwest Writing Group on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. This is the 7th time we’ve met. The first was October 2007 at McCreedy’s in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. Somewhere in the middle, there was Kansas City, Missouri. The last retreat was on Lake Pepin in Lake City, Minnesota.


We arrived on Thursday; the Moon was new. The mornings and afternoons are silent. Here’s our daily schedule:

  • Wake up in Silence.
  • 9am to Noon — Sit, walk, write.
  • Noon to 1pm — Lunch in Silence.
  • 1pm to 4pm — Free Time. Read, write, walk, sleep, stare out the window.
  • 4pm to 6pm — Sit, walk, write.
  • 6pm — Dinner. Free to talk and break bread.


 

Writing Home, Lake Michigan

Writing Home, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 


If you’d like to join us, here are the first 14 Writing Topics. During Day 1 of Sit, Walk, Write (Natalie Goldberg style) we wrote 14 practices at 10 minutes each:

  • Reading under a blanket
  • Fortunate life
  • Friend of the family
  • Piano lessons
  • I’m waiting for
  • Bits of garbage
  • Should I stay or should I go
  • I guess I’m doing alright
  • Walls
  • A path through the weeds
  • Cries for help
  • Don’t tell me it will be alright
  • Distractions
  • Luckiest person in the world


 

Sit, Walk, Write

Sit, Walk, Write, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, October 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 


Observations:

  • Took all of Day 1 to debrief & unwind from busyness
  • Travel days take a lot out of you
  • Resistance high on Day 2
  • Breathing deeper on Day 3
  • Staring at the lake calms me, blood pressure drops
  • Walking the beach spurs fresh creative ideas. I’m part of something bigger than me.
  • After 3 years, I feel comfortable & safe with these writers. We’ve worked out the logistics of living, eating, sleeping in close quarters.
  • Everyone holds the space
  • Grateful to the timekeeper who holds the structure
  • Writing about family, place, home, writing projects
  • Free time is essential. Sleep & rest without guilt is essential. Silence is essential.


Back next week. Get out your fast writing pens and spiral notebooks. We follow the Writing Practice rules. And try to Make Positive Effort For The Good. Sit, walk, write.


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 10th, 2010

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My Refrigerator

My Refrigerator, BlackBerry Shots, Golden Valley, Minnesota, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To some, refrigerators are bare places, slick and spit-polish clean. Enamel, stainless steel, plastic. Avocado greens and lemon yellows in the 1970’s. Black, white, and stainless steel, the current aesthetic. For some, appliances are pieces of art — sleek, retro, places that make a statement through even curves and vintage hardware. In our house, the fridge is a place that collects — grocery lists, receipts, magnets, calendars, bits and pieces of our lives. One day, we realize the clutter for what it is, throw the valuable photos and magnets in a shoebox, and toss the rest. Until the cycle begins again.

The front of my refrigerator reflects a timeline of my life, something I call fridge typography. Magnets from Ocean City, Maryland, an old photo of Liz’s sister when she was a small girl, the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl, the official Geocaching logo, Lily and Hope black bear swag from our trip to the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota last July. There is a school photo of my niece, a postcard of Hershey Kisses I sent to Liz when I was in Pennsylvania in May, another of the World’s Largest Boot (size 638 1/2 D) sent to Liz by Bob (or was it Jude) when we were down near Red Wing, Minnesota for a writing retreat earlier this year.


Fridge Topography - 259/365

Fridge Typography, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What does your fridge look like? Is the outside uncluttered and sparse? If so, open the door. What food do you have inside your refrigerator? Is it all fresh and ready to eat? Or are there a few rotten items to be tossed. What about the freezer? Do you have old-style vintage refrigerator coils (remember what it used to be like to defrost condenser coils)? Or is yours state of the art, energy efficient, humming along quietly in the night.




Fifteen minutes should do it. Or if you’re on a roll, go for 20. Get out your fast writing pens and Writing Practice notebook. Jot down My Refrigerator, and Go!




-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, September 19th, 2010

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By Louis Robertson


Scars tell a story, some easily remembered, some long forgotten. My oldest “memory scar” looks like the letter C on the webbing between my left thumb and index finger. I remember getting this scar like it was yesterday, although I think I was three at the time, when I accidentally closed a cap gun on it. It was one of those old western style guns that opened on a pivot to load more caps. The experience seemed so surreal with the cap gun hanging off of my hand as I tried to shake it off.

The second scar I remember well is on my left arm about 4 inches below my elbow. I got this one at Grandpa’s house while cutting the grass with the riding mower. Using the riding mower was something I didn’t do often and something Mother reluctantly allowed me to do.

Uncle R had a Great Dane who was allowed outside on a run (a cable run from the barn to a tree with a chain which hooked to his collar). Over time, he would create a sag in the wire and the constant running wore the edge of the cable to a razor sharp edge. I would use a wooden pole to hold up the wire and mow near the pole as I mowed the lawn. On this day I got a little too close to the pole and knocked it over causing the wire to be dragged along my arm.

I remember stopping the mower, walking inside (trying to keep the bloody arm out of mom’s sight) so I could make it to the bathroom to patch it up and keep mowing. Unfortunately, as blood dripped off my arm, Mom’s “mother sense” kicked in and she made me stop so she could see what was going on. By this time, blood was coursing downing my arm and I knew I was done mowing for the day.

My most impressive scar(s) would have to be from my two liver transplants. The first transplant was in 1993, and the second in 2003. The scar starts in the center of my chest and goes down toward my belly for about 4 inches where it meets a scar that is shaped like a lopsided chevron. The left side is about 6 inches and the right continues to my right side. The transplant team calls this my Mercedes but if pressed they will confirm that it is really called a modified chevron incision.

There have been several things I’ve wanted to do with this scar, including getting tattoos that incorporate it into them. Since tattoos do not work well on scar tissue, I was thinking about getting a dashed line near the scars with the instructions “Cut here.” Another thought was to make it look like a zipper that is opened at the top. I am not sure where I will go with these, but I have over a year to decide.

Other scars I have found make me say, “Where did that come from?” But that is another story.


Frankenbelly 2

Frankenbelly 2, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, August 2003, photo © 2003-2010 by Louis Robertson. All rights reserved.



-Related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – SCARS

NOTE: Scars is a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Guest writer Louis Robertson was inspired to join QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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. He shared some of those lessons in his piece on red Ravine: Things I Wanted You To Learn.

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Scar Geography, Burn Scar From An Art Project, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Scars may be an odd topic, I know. But scars, random warrior marks across body (and mind), remind us that we’ve lived a full life. A nick, a cut, a slice. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother sliced her finger open while peeling potatoes; the wound took several stitches and weeks to heal. And when I was about six, my young brother fell off his tricycle while standing on the seat, reaching for a pickle jar resting on the brick window ledge of our carport. There was blood everywhere; it scared me to death.

Scars have a long memory. They follow some kind of trauma in a life. Here is a little scar geography from the years that I have lived:

 

#1 — Index finger in the crease above the knuckle. I was sharpening dental tools in the late 70’s, when a blade caught on a grinding wheel and popped up into the air. I watched in slow motion; gravity took its course and the steel tip landed in my finger. (Occupational hazard of the dental tool sharpener.)  — Montana

#2 — Middle finger, second crease above the knuckle. While performing the perfect high dive at a pool party (showing off for my high school friends) I didn’t realize how shallow the deep end was. Bam! scraped my knuckles on the bottom and came up bleeding. Not cool. — Pennsylvania

#3 — Inside wrist, right side, a burn scar shaped like a lop-sided heart. I was helping an art school friend paint scalding hot bees wax on her senior project, a huge sculpture made of all natural materials. She’d heat up the dark brown bees wax in an old electric skillet her grandmother gave her and slather it across branches of wood. Memories of art school. — Minnesota

#4 — Inside of left calf – a light burn scar shaped like the edge of the tailpipe I brushed against when stepping off the saddle of my uncle’s Honda. I was about 13 and asked if he’d take me on a ride across Pennsylvania back roads around East Berlin. He forgot to tell me the first rule of the road about motorcycles – always step off the side without the 500-degree tailpipe. (Ironically, it’s the same day I fell in love with motorcycle riding.) — Pennsylvania



Do you have scars on your body, the kind of unexpected life happenings that leave a little mark? Or maybe you’ve had surgery under the knife (before the laser) and have a long zipper down your abdomen or across your right knee. My brother has had two liver transplants and I am awestruck by what he has endured, evidenced by the long scars down his chest. He recently became a candidate for a third transplant, and the last time I was home, he joked that he was going to tattoo a dotted line down his chest – – – – Cut Here.

Scars can also be psychological and emotional. Childhood trauma, abuse, post traumatic stress, or scars associated with cultural rites of passage. Stressful life events become markers, cairns on the journey. Scars provide a rich vein of material to be excavated. In your next Writing Practice, follow the scars across your body. They contain deep memories and feelings, a topographical map through the past.

Scars — 10 minutes, Go!

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Out of all the agreements, this is one I strive to keep. It’s also the hardest. I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night. I dreamed about Ely, Minnesota, the deep forests of the North Woods, where most everything is impeccable with its word. The black bears, Lily and Hope, are busy being bears. They hibernate in Winter, fluctuating between restless activity and long naps. They may have cubs in January. It’s not something that is up for debate. They emerge in the Spring and seek a mate, roam the forests of red and white pines, gangly cedars, and rough-hewn milkweed, and pluck fruit off of agile chokecherry trees which they bend across the path and navigate with their tongues.

In my dream, I was walking through the woods, similar to the nature walk back behind the Bear Center on Saturday night. It was humid and wet, the ground soft underfoot. A long line of people skirted the trail through tufts of mosquitoes; they quietly listened. What I’ve learned about impeccability is that it is different for each person. If you are a bear researcher, you report back to the public from the angle from which you study the bears. Each person’s approach is different. One is not less impeccable than the next. They may start out with different beliefs, seek to prove or disprove them over years spent in the woods, watching and recording black bears.

I was thinking about how that applies to every day life. We tend to hang around people who are most like us. It takes great effort to understand those we might disagree with. To be willing to have our opinion changed, based on fact, based on what is right — that’s a form of impeccability. To deep listen. Again, impeccable. It takes work to listen to what people have to say without already forming what your response will be when they are done speaking. There are many different versions of right and wrong. Not black and white. Gray. If you get to know the facts about any one subject, person, place or thing, there is a lot of gray.

I learned at the North American Bear Center that what might have been believed true of bears 20 years ago, may not be true now. With more research, comes a deeper form of truth and understanding. With age comes wisdom. The same is true in my own life. I recently ran across an old journal from the time period when I was turning from 21 to 22. I had recently moved to Montana from Pennsylvania and my life was topsy-turvy. Over the course of a year, I ended one relationship, began another with a woman who had a toddler. That relationship would end in three years. The toddler is full-grown; I’m only a blip in his life.

What I believed when I was 20 is not what I believe now. The way I was impeccable with my word is not the way I try to be impeccable today. I work harder now to not make commitments I know I can’t keep. I also fail. But I feel more willing to accept the failures. By fessing up. Apologizing. Asking for forgiveness. There can’t be too much forgiveness in the world. There can’t be too much love.

I’ve learned the hard way that impeccability is something that is earned over time. It doesn’t show up on your doorstep and beg to be let in. It is proud, strong, forgiving but demanding. The white pines are impeccable. They catalogue the seasons and provide protection and nurturing for black bears in the North Woods of Minnesota. The lumber barons who nearly wiped white pines off the face of the planet? I wouldn’t call them impeccable in their commitment to the sustainability of our world. But things are more complicated than that.

Maybe they were impeccable with their word to those they did business with, to the communities they helped build and make thrive. I don’t know. I don’t share their values. But I shy away from condemnation. I try to understand their shortsightedness. Sometimes it’s just greed. Pure and simple greed that drives people to break their word. Fortunately, I still believe that it’s not the greedy who shall inherit the Earth. But I’m not so sure it will be the humans either.



-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC: THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

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Northern Burr Oak - 333 Years Old - 192/365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Northern Burr Oak – 333 Years Old – 192/365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


On Sunday I joined over 100 people in Riverside Park near the Franklin Avenue Bridge to pay tribute to the oldest known tree in Minneapolis. It is estimated that the Northern Burr Oak dates back to 1677. In the wake of the oak’s recent death, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation will be cutting it down in the Fall. We listened to sculptors, poets, neighborhood kids, and Cancer survivors who found solace in being near this tree. It felt to me like I was standing on hallowed ground. The tree has outlived all the humans who have ever set foot here. Imagine what she has seen.

In this photograph from 1941, the ancient Northern Burr Oak seems healthy and happy, her giant crown holding court over the Mississippi River Gorge.  Here is an excerpt from documentation at the site of the gathering:


IMG00354-20100711-1942.jpgTHE ANCIENT OAK TREE  — Perhaps the oldest living thing in Minneapolis is the huge Northern Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa var. olivaeformia) that graces the west bank of the Mississippi in Riverside Park, about two blocks above the Franklin Avenue bridge, an enduring sentinel at the point where River Road West descends down into a most picturesque stretch of river gorge. Estimated by various botanists to be all the way from 150 to 700 years old, this valiant aborigine stands 58 feet tall, with a branch spread of 66 feet and a trunk girth of 14 feet at a point two feet above the ground. Symmetrically beautiful, this “first citizen” of Minneapolis, surviving the storms, drought, and fires that during the years have scourged the area of others of its kind, still remains a picture of physical strength and majestic beauty. Many are those who periodically come to Franklin Terrace to admire this grand old tree and to marvel at its great antiquity. In his little book, Riverside Reveries, published in 1928, Dr. Otto F. Schussler paints a beautiful word picture of this beloved old tree that “with a quiet dignity unsurpassed, and a perseverance unfaltering through the years continued to grow in size, in strength and ever-increasing beauty.”

-from the book Minneapolis Park System, 1941, by Theodore Wirth


IMG00318-20100711-1831.jpg

As to the fate of the tree, opinions were mixed. Should it be cut down and turned into sculptures or pins? Should it remain as it stands, a living monument to all it has seen? Should the tree be felled and replaced with sapling Burr Oaks? What is the best way to honor the life and death of an ancient tree? Let it stand or let it fall.

After I returned home, I started to think about all the posts ybonesy and I have done about trees over the years. There is the giant cottonwood in the courtyard of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and the Lawrence Tree that Georgia O’Keeffe painted just outside of Taos, New Mexico. ybonesy has written about the cottonwood in her backyard and the carving of the Virgen de Guadalupe in a cottonwood in Albuquerque. She also wrote a piece about the art of Patrick Dougherty who uses the limbs, trunks, and canopies of trees to build his installations.

One year on my travels to Georgia, I visited a ginkgo in Augusta that was supposedly planted in 1791 for the visit of George Washington. And last year, for the first time, I stood under the giant pine where my paternal grandmother is buried. Our guest Linda Weissinger Lupowitz writes about New Mexico cottonwoods in What’s Happened To The Corrales Bosque? And in Fourteen Dozen Roses: The World As The Jungle It Is, Erin Robertson shares her poetry and explains how her tattoo of a ginkgo leaf makes her feel closer to her grandfather.

What do trees mean to you? Is there an oak you visit that brings you peace? Do you like to write under a grove of Ponderosa pines, sketch the bark of the ash in your front yard, run your fingers across the groove of a cottonwood’s skin. Have you lost a tree that was important to you. Are there trees that make you feel closer to home. Get out a fast writing pen and spiral notebook and get started on a Writing Practice My Favorite Tree. Ten minutes, Go!

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My favorite coffee shop has light and green, is serene. The food is one of the biggest draws, a tortilla breakfast sandwich for $2.99, and it has bacon inside and a poached egg, cheese, lettuce, salsa. The best dish is a red chile tamale with a poached egg on top. I’m not a poached egg fan normally, so I know I love a coffee shop when it’s got me loving poached eggs.

Oasis is a furniture shop, also, an odd combination: coffee and outdoor and indoor furniture. If there were a theme to the furniture it would be serenity. Second time I’ve used that word when talking about Oasis. Several fountains throughout the place, wind chimes, wicker and bamboo chairs and tables, statues. Some statues are giant Buddha heads, another is Saint Francis of Assisi, the guy known for his love of animals. If Jim were a modern-day saint, he’d be St. Francis.

I like the color of the place, dark wood tables and the wind chimes and bird feeders come in all colors of blown glass. I like that my favorite coffee shop gets all manner of people, old, young, single, couples. Here, at the Starbucks where I’m hanging out while Em is getting a Math tutor lesson, 85% of the people who’ve come in don sports outfits, like they’ve just stopped in after a game of tennis or a jog. If this Starbucks were a city, it’d be Boulder—young, fit, and blonde.

I’m a loyal coffee shop consumer, a patron, I suppose. I will go to my favorite coffee shop at least once a week, not as frequently, I realize, as the loyal Starbucks patron. Some people stop in daily, drop that $5 every single day. I’ve seen stats that show how if you invested your coffee habit dollars into a good mutual fund you could within a few years have several thousands of dollars.

I am of that ilk, I’m afraid, the person who rather than fuel a coffee habit every day at my favorite coffee shop will save the money and drink my morning drink at home most days. But I’m still loyal, I still try to do my part to keep a coffee shop solvent. I’ll take my daughters to Oasis most weekends and together we’ll order drinks, breakfast, and if we’re real hungry, a couple of pastries to share. Oasis has the best pastries.

If I lived in Albuquerque, I’d hang out at Java Joe’s, which is across from Robinson Park, that old part of downtown where Mom used to shop at Arden’s. For all I know, Java Joe’s is the old Arden’s. Or there’s that newer shop in LoDo, the lower downtown district, that is so cool, it has a hidden patio that reminds me of being in another country. I’ve only been there once, last summer, and I hope it survived. Just like I hope Oasis survives.

Hard to imagine any of these Mom & Pop places competing with this Starbucks, though, the steady stream of jogging-suit-clad men and women. I swear at least 40 coffee drinks have been sold in the 40 minutes we’ve been here.




–related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY FAVORITE COFFEE SHOP

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My favorite coffee shop is the Blue Moon on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Large windows facing an urban street; back-lit hideaways with less light, more cozy. Then there is my favorite table. I have two of them. The one across from the half moon string of lights over the serving bar. And the one right by the front door, up against the cooler. I would sit with my back to the cold white wall, facing the refrigerator wind that blew through the door a Minnesota winter. A writing group I used to be a part of met at the Blue Moon once a month. We called it the Blue Mooners. It has disbanded now.

Second favorite coffee shop? Diamonds in Northeast on Central Ave. The parking is limited but I like the checkerboard flag, that the owners are women bikers, that I can hide away inside what used to be the building’s bank vault. Are the walls green, yes, I think the walls are mint green with vintage lamps and tables. I don’t know how people make it in the coffee business. It was mentioned in the Writing Topic that people get into it because they love the product. We’ve got Caribou’s corporate headquarters here in Minneapolis. I’ve always tried to support them. Who can compete with Starbuck’s? And Starbuck’s may not even be the best — but they have the longest arms.

Kiev is sleeping next to me at almost 1am and I’m writing about coffee shops. She thinks I’m nuts and has left me in the dust with her zzzzz’s. Sometimes she snores her little cat snores. Mr. StripeyPants is more likely to take long, deep breaths. Long deep cat breaths. He does it when he’s frustrated or when I won’t play with him. Cats like three things: exercise (to them it’s play), food, and love. Now that I write the words, those are the same things humans need. Not necessarily in that order.

I’m fond of Tazza in Taos because I’ve got memories there with my writing friends, memories of sitting alone and jotting practices in my wire bound notebook with a fast writing pen. But there’s Taos Cow. I wrote there once, too, after a trip to the D. H. Lawrence Ranch. I have read my writing in coffee shops which, looking back, horrifies me. How in the heck did I stand up there and do that? It was a launching pad of sorts, the kind of thing you do when you’ve got nothing to lose. Maybe I need to get back into it. Coffee shops are forgiving. Also noisy. Writers and poets crammed between fiddle player and ragtime. We stuck it out. It’s important to stick things out.

All of the coffee shops have WI-FI now, which begs the question — how do they make any money? I read an article on how people would camp out in coffee shops for the free WI-FI and not buy any drinks. Or buy only one, then stay for hours chatting with their friends, writing, reading. Taking up tables and space. How do you balance the bohemian slant of a good coffee shop with the real need to make money. They need to make money to stay alive. Just like we do.

When I was a teenager, the coffee shop of choice was Dunkin’ Donuts. There was no Starbucks. No Peets, Caribou, or Java Train. No Diamonds, Urban Bean, or Anodyne. I had a friend who worked at Dunkin’ Donuts one summer. It was 1976. She wore all white (no hairnet but instead one of those creased paper hats) and served me a free cup of coffee when I came in. I’d watch her pluck lemon crèmes off the slanted steel shelves, and place them next to chocolate coconut cake donuts and fry-bogged glazed donut holes. Dunkin’ Donuts coffee smelled good, that old style percolator odor that gets into the nooks and crannies of a place. The price of a cup of coffee in 1970 might have been 10 cents, a quarter. Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar. For a cup of perked coffee, I’d stand up and holler.

 

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, March 26th, 2010

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — MY FAVORITE COFFEE SHOP

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By Judith Ford


Image by Jude Ford, July 2009, in front of the Mathematics Building, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, photo © 2010 Jude Ford. All rights reserved.


This is my son, at the door of the math building at the University of Michigan. A month after this picture he’d go through that door to begin his life as a math PhD candidate and as a college teacher. He’d discover the frustration of trying to teach calculus to a bunch of freshmen who wouldn’t give a damn. Who wouldn’t share one drop of the passion he feels for his subject. Years before this photo, he’d told me, with tears in his eyes, that he wished more people could see how elegant and beautiful math was.

Despite the beauty of math, it was never enough.

My son started grad school a month short of his 21st birthday. He was overly ready and not ready at all. He’d had a summer of brutal awakenings, realization upon realization of all he missed out on by being a child math prodigy. Not that he could have avoided being who he was. He was blessed, as much as cursed, with an unusual mind, shunned by children who thought he was showing off, trying to make them feel stupid, when all he was doing was using the language and thoughts natural to him. He had a 30-year-old’s vocabulary by the time he was in first grade. I’m not kidding.

He and I had a conversation just a week ago, about his intellectual differentness. He pointed out to me that he’d met a lot of really smart people in the honors math program at the U of Chicago, from which he’d graduated last June. “There are a lot of people out there who are way smarter than I am,” he said. “I don’t think I was all that unusual when I was a kid.”

I disagreed. “Yes, dear, you really were different. It was obvious by the time you were 2. You learned things in big huge gulps. At a rate that wasn’t usual, that was, frankly, a little scary. And you didn’t know how to play with other kids.”

“I still don’t.”

“That’s what was scary to me when you got tested and those scores came back so freakishly high. I knew you were going to be lonely.”

“I don’t remember ever not being lonely.”

“Kids your age were intimidated by you. By third grade, they’d started avoiding you.”

“I thought they all knew this secret thing that I’d somehow missed out on. I thought math could make up for that. I thought it would solve everything. I was pathetic. I never learned how to be a human being.”

“How brave of you to see that,” I think I said. “So now what do you need to do?”

“I don’t have a clue,” he answered.

There’s ivy growing over the top of this door, up at the right hand corner. Brings to mind the academic cliché of ivied walls and the idea that this door, being partly occluded, is yet another incomplete solution, leading to an unknown and no doubt imperfect path. Math, a career in math, still won’t solve my son’s life or end his loneliness.

See the way he holds his arms and shoulders. His uncertainty and discomfort are obvious. And that he’s trying to be patient with me as I take his picture. He squints at me. He frowns. He knows I’m doing a mom thing that, for some reasons not clear to him, I need to do.

Does he know how my heart hurts for him? How much I wish I could soothe away the pain in his face with something as simple as a hug and a bedtime story. How these things, too, are mom things that I can’t help feeling. He doesn’t need to know. I don’t tell him and I try not to let him see.

He tolerates my hug when I say good-bye. He doesn’t hug back. He doesn’t hold on. His gaze, over my shoulder, already fixed on that door.

It’s trite to say that when he walked through that door he walked into the rest of his life. But I want to say it. So I am. He did. He walked into his adult life without a clue. Which is the only way possible to walk into one’s life. And interestingly, the only way that is, in fact, a kind of solution.


Judith Ford is a psychotherapist and writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was red Ravine’s very first guest writer, with her 25 Reasons I Write post. She joins ybonesy and QuoinMonkey in writing about Topic post WRITING TOPIC — DOOR. Judith’s other pieces on red Ravine include Mystery E.R. and a writing group practice I Write Because.

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I had a Writing Practice a second ago. But Mr. Stripeypants wiped his paw across my keyboard and accidentally hit the delete key. What was I saying about doors? Hard to muster the energy to walk through this one. Doors, I remember a door from childhood. Wooden, probably pine, not hollow, real, with a center and windows, three windows, rectangular, and spaced so that one fell a little lower than the next. There was a United Way sticker on the door. I’m reminded that Pants comes to the door to greet me when I get home from anywhere. He hears the car come up the driveway, maybe even the street. Superhearing. There’s something comforting about having someone meet you at the door.

Doors to the past. I tend to open them for a peek. Doors to the future. You can’t count on them. Might not have a future. Now, right now. Still, I make plans, hoping I will see the sun rise. No sun today. The sun rose but was way too gray and rain studded to see. So I suffice with a memory –yesterday’s whopping orange ball over the Jewish cemetery I pass on the way to work. A beautiful mounded hill surrounded by empty land in the middle of a busy city. I like that about cemeteries. They hold space. And they get away with it because most people honor the dead, respect for those who have passed before.

Doorways to another dimension. Do I believe in Spiritual doors? Yes. I do. Thin veils of what has passed. I think about that when I open the Chevy Silverado door, marking time, making my rounds, driving around the bowels of the Twin Cities. Places no one thinks about or imagines, living right beside their neighborhood park or favorite restaurant. I haven’t been drawn to photograph doors. Except for the bowling pin door I ran into in Burnsville. But I’ve always worked with windows. The metaphor of window. It’s different than a door. Windows are lonely, have a longing loneliness about them. Pining to get out. You have to crawl out a window. What wants to blow in? You see vampire movies where vamps slide through windows at night. Never come in the door. Only the windows, flying like a bat out of midnight.

When I was a child, doors felt like protectors. Keeping what was unsavory out. Unless it was a Holiday and the relatives visited. Then we ran to the door to see who it was, to let them into the house. The house seemed so much bigger then. If I went back inside a childhood home, it would be tiny. What about gates? How are gates different than doors? If you think about a gate, you can go under it, over it, around it. A door? You have to want to move through it. Gates, you can see through them, yet still might not be able to trespass forward. Doors are most times closed off to what’s inside. Unless it’s a glass storm door, that thick-paned thermo glass that keeps the heat in and the cold out. I’ve always wanted to be able to afford thick glass windows and doors. Winter hardware.

What about Black Holes, doors to another Universe. Or are they drains, deep black, funneling drains to nowhere. I don’t really know what a Black Hole is. I read about them once but can’t remember how they form. And when I think about a door that huge, it makes me feel small and insignificant, which I am. I am also as big as my Spirit allows me to be. (Can I keep getting out of my own way?) The door is wide open. There are glass ceilings, mahogany frames, hollow doors, lead doors, steel doors. If I had to choose, the door would be red like my glasses. Or yellow like the Sun. You just don’t see yellow doors. Maybe a saccharin shade of bluish purple.



-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, February 4th, 2009

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DOOR

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