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Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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 Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writer’s Hands IV, hands of Bel Canto author, Ann Patchett, signing a copy of her latest book, Run, Fitzgerald Theater, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Part I.

Fitzgerald Theater (Inside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, St. Paul. Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

On a rainy October night, inside the haunted Fitzgerald Theater, Ann Patchett held the audience rapt. She has created a huge life for herself. A writer’s life. Awed by her confidence and poise, I was surprised to find she is also funny, and witty. Bel Canto was the novel that put her over the top. And earned her the alias, “Opera Girl.” But it was the memoir, Truth & Beauty, that drew me in.

The Write Kind Of Jazz, live jazz quartet, night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty; A Friendship, on MPR's Talking Volumes, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved My friend, Teri, read the book for one of Natalie Goldberg’s workshops. Then attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop last summer (where much of the book takes place). She suggested I read it. Along with Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face.

Suddenly, it was October, and Teri, Liz, and I grabbed dinner at Mickey’s Diner before walking across Exchange Street into the bustling, sold-out crowd at the Fitzgerald.

We found split seats tucked way in the left corner, right under the balcony. Opening with an airline joke about her lost luggage, Ann Patchett sat across from Kerri Miller wearing black Jazzin' With Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller, Ann Patchett & Kerri Miller enjoying the live jazz quartet at the Fitzerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. jeans, black boots, and a burnt orange scarf. Casual. It didn’t matter. Her comments on grief and loss stilled the room. It was her grieving process for Lucy that became Truth & Beauty. There was no tour when the book came out. She seemed happy to talk about the healing.



Part II.

At times, Ann had the audience in stitches. Other moments, there were tears. Later she would joke with us, pose for a few photos, and sign our books. She seemed glad to be there.

I listened with hungry ears. Teri and I nudged each other anytime we heard some snippet of wisdom, another link in the chain of making our way as writers. Liz took notes in the seat behind us (thanks, Liz!). And every once in a while we would explode into laughter at one of Ann’s jokes.

I soaked it all up. What did I learn?


  • She doesn’t have to write every day. She has no rituals or rules.
  • She doesn’t write between books. She rests.
  • After writing her books, she lets them go. She doesn’t read them again. She doesn’t even remember Bel Canto. She’s moved on.
  • The idea that’s cookin’ may not be the book at all.
  • Writing a novel is about faking it with authority.
  • Two words: pen pal. She has close pen pals.
  • A new definition of pornography was forged when Clemson University (in South Carolina) strenuously objected to Truth & Beauty being on the freshman class syllabus, claiming it was filled with “pornography.” There was a protest; Ann needed a bodyguard to make her speech.
  • Profound, close relationships between two women scare a lot of people.
  • Run, Bambi, Run!
  • The center cannot hold; the falcon cannot hear the falconer.
  • When you write a new book and go on tour, people really want you to talk about the last book because that’s the one they last read. (In this case, the last two books.)
  • She met her best friend and writer, Elizabeth McCracken, during the living of Truth & Beauty. She trusts her with her life.
  • She writes 98 percent for herself, 2 percent for Elizabeth, and no one else.
  • You can’t put love on the scales.
  • In her mid 30’s, she had no knowledge of opera, had never been to an opera, had never listened to an opera. But after Bel Canto, when something goes on in the world of opera, The New York Times calls “Opera Girl.”
  • Research brings her a lot of joy. She hates magic. Why? Magic is the most misogynist art form in the world
  • No experience matches the moment she finished her first published novel, The Patron Saint Of Liars.
  • She was two blocks away from the World Trade Center when it went down. She was holding someone’s hand. 


Part III.

               The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

The Fitzgerald Theater (Outside), night of Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, on MPR’s Talking Volumes, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What I want to say is that Ann was inspiring. She didn’t pull any punches. She was at the same time vulnerable and strong. Very strong. She knows how to take the criticism of her readers, and the country. She mentors others, gives back. But also seems like she guards her time with her life.

The day after we saw her at the Fitz, she flew to Dallas. Or somewhere in the heart of Texas. The tour went on. I smiled when I thought about her missing luggage. I wondered if Run would do well. But I could tell it wouldn’t matter all that much. She’s already moved on. She’s looking in the eyes of a stranger, waiting for the next book. She’s doing what she’s wanted to do since she was 5 years old. She never wavered for a moment. She’s a writer.


In the moment of our death, we are closest to our life. And the person who is with us at that moment is the person that we desperately need. Because they’re the only person who really understands what we’ve been through.

  – Ann Patchett, Fitzgerald Theater, October 16th, 2007


Part IV.

Post Script:  Don’t take my word for any of this. To hear Ann speak about ichthyology, magic, Bel Canto, bodyguards, Opera Girl (and to find out whose hand she was holding), listen to her talk in its entirety at the link below (you might even recognize a familiar voice during the audience Q&A):

Live appearance: Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Patchett discussed “Run” with Kerri Miller and the Talking Volumes audience at the Fitzgerald Theater.


Related links you might enjoy:

Seattle Arts and Lectures: Elizabeth McCracken & Ann Patchett
Novelists, 5th Avenue Theatre, January 10, 2000

StarTribune Article on Ann Patchett
Setting Her Own Pace, October 2007
(you may have to register and log in to read)


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC: WHAT HAVE YOU LOST & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Birthday Celebration

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We’re well into Fall, and our July guests have rotated off the Guest Writers & Featured Artists widget on the sidebar. You can still locate their pieces by typing their names into our Search bar. Or by clicking on Guestwriter or Guestartist under Contributors on the sidebar.

Thanks to our guests on red Ravine who support and expand our efforts to create a dynamic writing and art community blog.

Here are our July guests and links to their pieces:

If you’d like to be a guest on red Ravine, read our Submission Guidelines For Writers & Artists. The link is on the sidebar under How To Submit. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at info@redravine.com anytime. Thanks for reading!


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, November 2nd, 2007

-related to post, Where To Find Our Guests

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What Have You Lost, Rainpainting Series, outside the Fitzgerald Theater, downtown, St. Paul, Minnesota, night of Ann Patchett, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you want to know someone, truly know someone, ask them about the things they have lost. No matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter. The things we have lost stay with us.

These are the words of Ann Patchett, author of The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. She wrote the memoir Truth & Beauty to grieve the loss of her friend, Lucy Grealy. The book was her grieving process.

What are the things you have lost? Have you ever lost face, your faith, time. When did you lose your virginity? What about your innocence. Did you lose your childhood, your dreams, someone close to your heart? Did you lose your keys the day you hiked the ocean cliffs of an Oregon beach and were left stranded in the dark.

Make a list of the things you have lost. Choose 1 or 2 items off of your list and do a 15 minute writing practice on each. Let yourself grieve. Take the time. What do you have to lose?


Grief is a debt you owe. After you pay, you can get to the joy.

-Ann Patchett on Talking Volumes at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007

-posted on red Ravine Sunday, October 28th, 2007

-related to post, The Parking Is Free

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Mickey's Diner In The Rain, Rainpainting Series, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mickey’s Diner In The Rain, Rainpainting Series, outside Mickey’s Diner near the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s been a long couple of weeks. Mr. Stripeypants has started to eat hard food again and seems to be on the mend. (Thanks for all the good energy any of you might have sent his way.) I’m up writing and preparing a post for tomorrow. But for tonight, easy does it.

Mickey’s Diner In The Rain was shot outside Mickey’s Diner late last Tuesday night after Ann Patchett’s talk at the Fitzgerald Theater a few blocks away. If you’re around these parts, you might want to catch a bite to eat.

Otherwise, it was quite a lively day at the bottom of red Ravine. Stop by any time. The parking is free.



I wanted to keep her as much for myself as for her. We had a wonderful time that visit. Even when Lucy was devastated or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t even realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.

But Lucy was never going to live in Nashville. Even if it might have saved her life, it wasn’t the life she wanted.

Dearest Anngora, my cynical pirate of the elusive heart, my self-winding watch, my showpiece, my shoelace, how are you?


-from Ann Patchett’s memoir, Truth & Beauty, A Friendship, Harper-Collins Publishers, 2004

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

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 Writer's Hands III, hands of Candyfreak author, Steve Almond, signing a copy of his latest book, (Not That You Asked) Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions, Minneapolis Central Library, downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writer’s Hands III, hands of Candyfreak author, Steve Almond, signing a copy of his latest book, (Not That You Asked) Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions, Minneapolis Central Library, downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s late and I’m tired. But I wanted to write a short note. I just got home from Thai dinner, stimulating conversation, and late night writing practice with two of my writing friends, Teri and Bob. Bob drove all the way from Kansas City, Missouri, to visit and write with us.

And last night, Liz, Bob, Teri, and I went to the Minneapolis Central Library to see Candyfreak author, Steve Almond, read from his new book (Not That You Asked) Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions. He was grounded, stimulating, generous with his time, and did I mention, fun? (Check out The Original Smarties Necklace wound around his wrist as a bracelet!)

There will be more to come about this author on red Ravine. But for now, get out and hear Steve read and speak. Buy his books. You’ll be inspired and motivated to action. And best of all, you’ll go home wanting to write. And change the world.

Thanks to Steve, Teri, Liz, and Bob for making the night a memorable one. Without the support of other writers, what do we have? And, Bob, have a safe journey home. And don’t forget the magic word – Hemingway.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 12th, 2007

-related to posts, Homage To A Candy Freak and WRITING TOPIC – CANDY FREAK

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Sleep, the Temptress and the tempted. She doesn’t come easily for me these days. There were times when sleep was a blessing, refuge of the depressed. Then there are dreams. I don’t always remember them. But lately, they’ve been restless and disturbed. The things in which I’ve put my trust are rocky and double-edged.

Last night, I woke up at 1:30am, restless and worried. The cats were tossing and turning, too. Kiev and Chaco had been to the vet, Dr. Tiffany, in the late afternoon before supper, hot vegetable soup. Kiev was a doll. Chaco, with his oily black coat, howled the way Siamese do, lashed out, hissed, and threatened to bite. But he is harmless, a survivor of abusive previous owners.

The fairy thin vet assistant grabbed him by the scruff, then tied on the black muzzle with pink shoestring laces that Chaco ripped off with a single paw in two seconds flat.

Domestic animals may not remember short-term inconsistencies or the emotional ups and downs of their owners. But they remember long-term abuse. It’s stored in their bodies. And as much as Liz tried to comfort Chaco, he sat through Kiev’s temperature check and yearly shots, then dove into old anxiety, emerald eyes splayed wide, as she placed him on the cold stainless steel table.

Mr. Stripeypants had gone to the vet earlier this year. So he stayed at home. Waited, nostrils to the windowpane. And when Kiev and Chaco returned, he sniffed and smelled and growled at them. The scent of squirty needles and alcohol and oozing medicine.

And that ties in with the book I am almost finished with, Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty. She races through the latter chapters of her friend Lucy’s addicted and chaotic frenzy. And I think of the ways that addictions plague artists and writers. Recovery offers hope. Addiction cycles around again. It’s inevitable.

Writers go to places that others don’t want to go. They are willing to look at the good, the bad, the ugly of human existence and write about it, so the details of our living history are not forgotten. And I wonder why it is I can’t sleep.

I dream of reams of money floating down from the sky and read how Ann and Lucy had more than enough money with New York parties and scholarly literature awards. A temporary balm, it didn’t matter in the end.

Writing will not make you happy. Or save you from anything. It only offers the comfort of a moment of captured truth – your truth. But back to sleep. How did I stray so far off track? I don’t count sheep.

Kiev and Chaco finally got to sleep and I rocked the bed, boing, boing, turning over and over, leaning up softly against the warm back and hands that sheltered and slowed the spinning in my head. Finally, I grabbed a warm finger, turned over on my side, crawled into a fetal position, and leapt into the next dream.

I was standing in front of a classroom, talking to a group of students about how writing will not save you; I was rattled, a skewed version of art imitating life.

And then, buzzzzzzzzzzzzz, the alarm with the microchip that connects to a satellite clock somewhere in the snowy mountains of Colorado beeped through my brain. And I rose to the dark Fall Minnesota morning.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

-from Topic post, Writing Topic – Counting Sheep

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