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Posts Tagged ‘writing in community’

Bamboo Morning (Haiga)

Bamboo Morning (Haiga), BlackBerry 52, Jump-Off – Week 2, January 10th 2011, photo © 2011 by alotus_poetry. All rights reserved. Medium: Digital collage created using MS PowerPoint 2007 & Adobe Photoshop CS2. Photo taken on BlackBerry. Poem first created on magnetic poetry board with word kits.


I was in Ely, Minnesota on a hot July afternoon when a new haiku 2 (one-a-day) notification popped up on my BlackBerry. It was A~Lotus, a friend I met through red Ravine. Liz and I were taking a break in our room at the Adventure Inn before heading back to the North American Bear Center. I took a minute to read the comment:

Hey, here’s an idea: Why don’t we do a BB 365 Collaboration? We each do our own 365 photos and manipulate them however we want to, be it adding text/poetry, collages or any other mixed media. However, we will be responding to each other’s photos. It’s a triple challenge:

A) The first individual will take the first photo of the New Year.
B) The second individual will take a photo in response to the first individual.
C) Both individuals can be as creative as they want in their own separate photos.
D) By the end of the year, each individual will have their own 365 batch.



Already in the middle of a BlackBerry 365 Project for 2010 (view the entire year’s slideshow here), I had to do some soul-searching about whether I could commit to another year of taking a photo every day. Honey, Lucky, and Ted were waiting. I tucked the idea into the brim of my Minnesota Twins cap, sent off a quick response to Lotus, and headed back to the NABC:

A~Lotus, I’m on vacation up in Ely, Minnesota right now. But, at first glance, I like the idea of collaborating on a BlackBerry 365 year. I definitely want to do another kind of photo practice next year. It stretches me. So let me think about it a little more and read over your proposal again when I get back into town. I like your enthusiasm! Will check out your Flickr account.


Sun Bleached

Sun Bleached, BlackBerry 52, Jump-Off – Week 1, Golden Valley, Minnesota, January 3rd, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few months flew by. I needed to respond. I agreed to post one photo each week for the 52 weeks of 2011. And that we’d call it BlackBerry 52. Lotus is a poet, so it seemed like a fun idea to also collaborate on one renga for the 52 weeks of 2011. We’d call that Renga 52 and keep it going for a whole year on haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52.

We finally landed on collaborative practices I felt I could stick to — one photo a week, one poetry addition a week. It’s tough to do any practice for an entire year. I’ll write about the challenges of BlackBerry 365 in another post. For tonight, here are the simple guidelines that A~Lotus and I are following for BlackBerry 52. It’s a call and response:

BlackBerry 52 Guidelines

  1. One person posts a BlackBerry photo on her Flickr account each Monday. This is the Jump-Off.
  2. The other responds with a BlackBerry photo, a haiga, a piece of art, any form of visual response.
  3. The response to the Jump-Off must be posted on Flickr by the end of the next Sunday.

If you’d like to join us for BlackBerry 52 each week, post your responses to the Jump-Offs on Flickr and drop the link into the comments. The Jump-Offs for January 3rd and 10th are the images above. (I’ll also add a BlackBerry 52 link to the sidebar.) You can follow A~Lotus on Twitter (where she writes poetry every day in community with other Twitter poets), at Poetry By Lotus, and on her Flickr account. Can’t wait to see what develops by next New Year’s Eve!


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

-related to posts: BlackBerry 365 Project — White Winter Squirrel, BlackBerry 365: Things Loved, Things Learned

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Forgotten Winter Snows, BlackBerry Shots, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, April 2010, photo © 2010-2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



New Beginnings, New Moon. It’s a good time to start projects and yearly practices. The tradition of haiku on red Ravine began in January 2008 with the piece haiku (one-a-day). It is a practice born from reading Clark Strand’s Seeds from a Birch Tree: Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey during a year-long Writing Intensive with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. The response from our readers was so great, that we continued the practice with haiku 2 (one-a-day), adding the poetic forms of tanka and renga, and creating a community haiku practice that would span two years.

Thanks to our faithful readers and haiku poets, January 2011 will jump-start our 4th year of haiku practice on red Ravine. haiku 4 (one-a-day) granted me the opportunity to do further research on the history of Japanese poetry and led me to the forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. This year’s challenge is to continue to co-create and build on the poems of other haiku writers with tanka and renga, while exploring the additional forms of gogyohko, haibun, and haiga. [Note: For our new readers, I am reposting information on haiku, senryu, tanka, and renga. For the three new forms, scroll down to gogyohko. Makes the post lengthy, but worthy of a whole year of poetry!]

Along with haiku practice in 2011, I’m doing two collaborations with A~Lotus, one which we call Renga 52. (The other is a BlackBerry 52 practice which I will write about later.) In Renga 52, we are going to keep one renga going in the comments on this post for the entire 52 weeks of 2011. We will each add to Renga 52 at least once a week. You are welcome to participate. Simply jump into Renga 52 in the comment section anytime you wish. Here’s to health and prosperity in the coming year!



haiku & senryu (part one)


Haiku uses simple, direct language, words that evoke a season, and usually incorporates a cutting or pivot word, so that one half of a haiku seems to speak to the other. According to Patterns In Poetry, haiku is closely tied to the Japanese aesthetic of Yugen and the spirituality of Buddhism. It is written in a 17-syllable form (usually three lines of 5-7-5) that looks deceptively simple. Yet if you read the work of the masters like Basho, Buson, and Issa, wandering poets who lived during Japan’s Edo-period (1600-1868), it becomes clear that the practice of haiku can take years to master.

Senryu is similar to haiku but strays from seasonal or nature themes. According to Simply Haiku, senryu focuses on people and portrays characteristics of human beings and foibles, and the psychology of the human mind. Senryu can express human misfortunes or the hardships of humanity, and even when they depict living things or inanimate objects, human attributes are emphasized.

What both haiku and senryu have in common is that they derive from a form of Japanese court poetry called tanka.


Characteristics of haiku:

  • 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)
  • Simple, direct, non-metaphorical language
  • Captures a transitory insight or moment in time called satori or the aha moment
  • Contains a kigo, an image of nature that evokes a particular season
  • Contains a cutting or pivot word that turns the movement of the poem
  • Based on experience, speaks of the common, in the moment, just as it is



tanka (part two)


Tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form, was often written to explore religious or courtly themes and had a structure of five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. One person would contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the tanka, and a different author would complete the poem by composing a 7-7 section and adding a pivot point such as in this tanka from George Knox at Aha! Poetry:


in the check-out line
a worn face ahead of me
turns tentatively. . .
realities of desire
fade in final reckoning

-tanka by George Knox


Characteristics of tanka:

  • 31 syllables, 5 lines
  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku.
  • Another person picks up the first 3 lines and writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables.
  • Can reflect nature or lean toward senryu
  • Emotional, contemplative, imaginative, reflective, written to be chanted



renga (part three)


Renga (linked elegance) is a form of linked poetry which evolved from tanka, the oldest Japanese poetry form. In renga’s 800 year history it has gone through many ideological changes. (And it was Basho who, after 500 years, snipped off the first three lines of renga to form haiku.)

In renga, one person would often contribute the first three lines (5-7-5) of the poetic chain and a different author would complete the chain by composing a 7-7 section. Then another author would build on the previous 7-7, with another 5-7-5 passage. This chaining of verses or renga, could sometimes add up to hundreds of linked tanka.

The first part of the poem, called hokku or “starting verse,” frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem, and the authors of hokku often earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.


Characteristics of renga:

  • Write the first section of a tanka (5-7-5), similar to a haiku. Hand this poem to another person.
  • Second person writes a response (or continuation) by composing two lines of 7-7 syllables. Then the second person hands off the completed tanka to a third person.
  • Third person writes another 3 lines of (5-7-5), beginning a new tanka
  • Continue in this way until you run out of time or feel that the poem is complete.
  • Contains a bridge or pivot point that links to the emotional element
  • Don’t try to force the storyline. When writing a response to the previous poem, focus only on the last section of the tanka, not the whole poem.
  • Think of each stanza as a springboard from which you are going to jump. The important thing to watch is what happens between the links.



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gogyohka (part four)


Gogyohka is a relatively new form of Japanese short poetry founded and pioneered by Japanese poet Enta Kusakabe. In 1957, at the age of 19, Kusakabe developed the concept of Gogyohka in order to create a freer form of verse. According to his website, The Gogyohka Society, gogyohka is pronounced go-gee-yoh-kuh (the “g”s are hard as in “good”), and literally translated means “five line poem.”

Gogyohka is five lines of free verse on any subject matter. There is no set syllable pattern or requirement for the length of its lines, but they should be short and succinct  — governed by the duration of a single breath. The goal is to practice self-reflection and contemplation by distilling an idea, observation, feeling, memory, or experience into just a few words. I am new to the form, but here is an example by Rodlyn Douglas at The Gogyohka Society:


Have you loved enough
to know the taste
of blood on the tongue
of one who has been bitten
by betrayal?

-gogyohka by Rodlyn Douglas


Characteristics of gogyohka:

  • 5 lines of free verse
  • No set syllable pattern
  • Short & succinct lines, governed by the duration of a single breath
  • Captures an idea, memory, observation or feeling in a few compelling words



haibun (part five)


Contemporary haibun is a combination of prose and haiku poetry sometimes described as a narrative of epiphany. What makes the haibun electric is the contrast between the prose and the haiku. According to The Haiku Society of America, haibun is a terse, short prose poem in the haikai style, which may include light humor as well as more serious elements. A haibun usually ends with a haiku. Most haibun range from well under 100 words to 200 or 300. Longer haibun may contain haiku interspersed between sections of prose, but the connections may not be immediately obvious. The haiku may serve to deepen the tone, or take the work in a new direction.

Japanese haibun is thought to have developed from brief notes written to introduce individual haiku, but soon grew into a distinct genre. The word haibun can be applied to longer works, such as the memoirs, diaries, or travel writings of haiku poets. According to Contemporary Haibun Online, haibun is the Japanese name for 17th Century monk Basho Matsuo’s travel journals. Basho’s view of haibun was haikai no bunsho – “writing in the style of haiku.” His best-known works, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling, were poetic prose, studded with haiku. Saga Nikki (Saga Diary) documents the day-to-day activities on a summer retreat with his disciples. Here is a contemporary example of a beautiful haibun from Contemporary Haibun:


By The Bay

Dusk turns the water into a fire opal.
The fragrance of fresh earth merges
in the air with white flowers.

Waves seem to whisper through the
western windows of the cabin my grand-
father built for my grandmother.

“Love poems” she once told me.

As I hold you in the dark, I recall her
wistful sighs on the porch, rocking to
the rhythm of the sea.

summer dawn –
I rinse the sand
from the sheets

-haibun by Hortensia Anderson


Characteristics of haibun:

  • Combines prose & haiku
  • Written with the brevity & conciseness of haiku
  • Dependent on images, syntax dominated by imagery
  • Combines light humor & serious elements
  • Ranges from less than 100, up to 300 words
  • Usually ends in a haiku



haiga (part six)


Haiga (Hai means comic and Ga means painting) is a style of Japanese painting based on the aesthetics of haikai, from which haiku poetry derives. Traditionally, haiga combined a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting and was based on simple, but profound, observations of the everyday world. In Haiga: Haiku, Calligraphy, & Painting, Poets.org describes traditional haiga as haiku’s more visual cousin. Some of the early masters were Morikawa Kyoroku, Sakaki Hyakusen, Takebe Socho, and Yosa Buson. Contemporary haiga often adds digital imagery to haiku poetry by the juxtaposition of a photograph to a poem. Or by overlaying the poem on to the image. As we have found on red Ravine, there is a natural inclination to combine haiku poetry forms and digital photography. At Daily Haiga, you can see examples of blended poetry and photography.


Characteristics of haiga:

  • Combines haiku & a simple painting, photograph, piece of art
  • Images restrained, minimal ink strokes, light colors
  • Free flowing with no unnecessary detail
  • Light, ironic, amusing, even when subject is serious
  • Unromantic, down to earth, humorous
  • Ordinary, day-to-day subjects and objects



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haiku practice


Feel free to drop a haiku into this space anytime, day or night. Or join the word play and collaborative effort of tanka and renga. I’m excited to explore the 5-line form of gogyohka, and have already started writing haibun in my Journal 365 practice this year. I thought it would be fun to continue to explore these ancient forms of Japanese poetry, and see where the journey takes us.

Also, it’s okay to experiment, break form, and move out of the traditional structures. English syllables translate differently than onji. And according to Richard MacDonald (from his essay What is Tanka?), Japanese poetry is syllabic by nature and not metrical or rhymed, because like the French language, the Japanese language lacks stress accents.

There are different schools of thought about how rigid one should be in counting syllables. From what I have read, it is a matter of personal taste whether to stay close to the Japanese model, or stray from it for personal reasons or aesthetics in order to incorporate Western heritage into poetic work. The most important thing is to relax and have fun with it!


Option 1 – haiku

  • Drop in a haiku or senryu, 17 syllables, 3 lines (with variations for language differences)

Option 2 – tanka

  • Grab another poet’s haiku, and write the 2 additional 7 syllable lines to create a tanka

Option 3 – renga

  • Grab a tanka created by 2 other poets, and, focusing on the last 2 lines, start the beginning of a new tanka (5-7-5) to be completed by the next poet

Option 4 – gogyohka

  • Write a gogyohka, 5 lines of free verse, governed by the length of a single breath, no set syllable patterns

Option 5 – haibun

  • Write a haibun, combining prose & haiku, less than 100 – 300 words, ends in haiku

Option 6 – haiga

  • Drop in a link to a haiga you created, blending or juxtaposing a haiku with painting, photo, or any form of visual art


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DEFINITIONS:


bridgeword, or words leading the reader from the nature image to the statement of emotion

cutting (kireji) Punctuation mark or word that divides a haiku into two parts. A cutting can be a hyphen, ellipses, colon or a word.

gogyohka5 lines of free verse on any subject matter, each line the length of one breath, no set syllable pattern

haibunterse, relatively short prose poem (100-300 words) in the haikai style, usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements, ending with a haiku.

haigacombining a haiku poem (written in calligraphy) with a simple painting. Contemporary haiga combines digital imagery, photographs, other art forms with haiku.

haikaishort for haikai no renga, the popular style of Japanese linked verse originating in the 16 Century, as opposed to the earlier aristocratic renga. In both Japanese and English, the word haikai can also refer to all haiku-related literature.

hokkufirst part of a renga, hokku is a “starting verse” that frequently sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Authors of hokku earned the respect and admiration of their fellow poets. By the 19th century, largely through the work of Masaoka Shiki, hokku began to be written and read as individual poems. From the word hokku derives our word haiku.

kigoA seasonal reference in haiku. Usually a kigo has accumulated resonances and associations with earlier haiku and Japanese aesthetics about time.

onji Japanese syllables. The language differences between Japanese and English are vast and complex. Converting onji to syllables may not always be a one for one process.

pivot word A word in a haiku poem that changes, or turns the direction of the poem

rengaJapanese poetic form made up of linked tanka verse; the word renga means “linked elegance”

satori A moment of insight or reflection that emerges in a Haiku poem (usually around the cutting or pivot word)

tanka Japanese poetic form that is made up of 5 lines with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count. Haiku derives from tanka.

yugenJapanese term for beauty that suggests mystery, depth and a tinge of sadness


RESOURCES USED IN WRITING THIS PIECE:



-posted on red Ravine at the first New Moon, Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

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View from The Gatehouse,” Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos,
December 8, 2010, photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

 





Sleepwalking I arrive
but silence awakens me
to our suffering










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On this second full day of silence, something snaps. I thought I came here because: I had vacation time to kill, I wanted to give myself a gift, it had been a long time since I’d been to a silent retreat in Taos with Natalie Goldberg. Today I am reminded that this is not play. When I go into silence, pain emerges. I wake up.

A quick step out of silence to give you an update, QM. I am also reminded that I met you here, that our friendship was created in silence and through the humanity and compassion we find when we come here. I am grateful for you, for all the friends I have met through Taos, and for everything I have learned about myself through coming here.

I am not writing much since arriving. In fact, I have only thus far written in the zendo during collective Writing Practice. Outside of class, I have spent my free time in The Gatehouse, where I’m staying. I’ve read, slept, and worked on collages. After I publish this post, I might venture out for a walk. I crave the cold air in my lungs.

It is good to be here, to wake up to all of me. To be humbled again.

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-Related to posts Sitting in Silence and haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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shadow auto 2

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


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

sherpa 2 auto

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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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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It’s so quiet. Mr. Stripeypants is down by the reflective heater, listening to me type. When I think of my birth, I think of a young girl, my mother Amelia, only 16 years old. I think of Augusta, Georgia in the 1950’s, Broad Street, one of the widest streets in the world, window shopping, my grandfather hanging out at the White Elephant bar. My mother tells me I had a thick head of black hair and the photographs bear that out. One in particular has me sitting in my grandfather’s lap. He is smiling, I am smiling, in a frilly dress and patent leather shoes.

I once thought I was born out of wedlock but that was another erroneous belief. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Mom and I were talking about her relationship with my father (whom I haven’t seen since I was about 6 years old) that she told me she married my father first — it wasn’t until later that I was conceived and born. I had thought until that time that she married him because she was pregnant. Nope. That’s how I began to learn how important it is to ask all the questions you have for your parents while they are still alive. Their memories may be fading, but at least you will have their version of what happened right from the horse’s mouth.

I was born not long after my Uncle Jack drowned in Clarks Hill Lake. He was only 18. Another assumption I made was that people were sad when I was born, still mourning the death of my uncle. Mom was quick to correct me, told me how joy-filled everyone was when I came into the world. What was it like for a 16-year-old in the 1950’s to birth a child? My father wasn’t a good provider. So my mother left him when I was two and went to work to put food on the table for us. Once she started showing, they made her quit high school, something that would be unthinkable today. They also made her quit her job in the Boy Scout admin office because they thought it would not be a good example for the boys to see a married woman that was pregnant.

It does make me realize how far we have come as women since the 1950’s. I recently heard a woman speak who was a stewardess on Northwest Orient in the 1950’s. She’s written a book and they were interviewing her on MPR. She said they had strict height and weight restrictions on stewardesses and you had to periodically “weigh in.” She also said you had to wear your hair a certain way, could not have dentures or partials, or wear glasses or contacts. Can you imagine the uproar today if those kinds of restrictions were put on American women?

But back to my birth. My earliest memories are not until I am about 6 years old. But once I went under hypnosis and remembered my birth father throwing me up in his arms and catching me, a loving gesture. I was an infant, all smiles. When I think of my birth, I think of my grandmother, too. And wish I could ask her what it was like for her when I was born. My mother tells me that nursing was painful. It makes me want to ask other women if nursing is painful for them. I never hear anyone talk about it. Much like I never hear people talk about miscarriages.

There are so many opportunities for women to be shamed. Are they good mothers, do they nurse, have they miscarried — many things which are out of their control. Did they have a natural birth or was labor induced. All of this falls on women, women who become mothers. A few years ago, my mother and I tried to find her step-sister’s grave. She died shortly after birth and my grandmother had scraped together the money for a marker. It was a rainy Georgia afternoon when Mom and I wandered through the Babyland area of the cemetery and finally stumbled upon her overgrown marker. There was an angel engraved into the stone.

Mom pushed the grass away with her foot, umbrella in her other hand, and I snapped a photograph. It was one of my first ventures back to Georgia to dig up the family history, interview my mother and other family members. The journey has led to many emotional ups and downs, most good. I felt happy that we had found the baby’s grave. And wondered about the circumstances of her birth. My grandmother is no longer here to tell me. She was unlucky in love in her early life. But the last man she married, Raymond, was a sweetheart. I felt so happy she finally found a man who would be sweet to her, someone she deserved.

You know what’s odd? I more remember the circumstances of each of my sibling’s births than I do my own. I was 4 years old when my brother came home from the hospital in Tennessee. I was 14 when my youngest sibling was born. We remember more than we think we do. If the right question is asked, a jumble of strange seemingly unlinked thoughts and emotions pour through the mind and heart. And that only leaves you to wonder more — what will be the circumstances of my death?




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by ybonesy), and two Guest practices False Accusation, Almost Dying.

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By Bob Chrisman


It was a dark and stormy night on May 3, 1952. I’ve always wanted to write that cliché opener. Flood waters had swept across the area around St. Joseph, but the Missouri Methodist Hospital was high on a hill. My mother delivered a healthy baby boy. The nurses told her that I looked just like my father because I had thick black hair and sideburns like my father.

I thought I was the second child. My sister was almost ten years older than I was and no one talked about another pregnancy. Had my parents not decided to go to the World’s Fair in Montreal, Canada in 1967, the year I turned 15, I would have lived and died not knowing about the other pregnancy.

Someone told my mother that we needed certified copies of our birth certificates to come back into the United States so she ordered a copy for each of us. They arrived one morning in the mail and she took the official looking, Manila envelope into her bedroom to open. I sat on the floor in anticipation of seeing my birth certificate.

She handed it to me and I read every entry. “Mom, my birth certificate is wrong. It says you have had two other children by live birth.” I showed her the line of the certified copy.

“No, it’s correct.” She walked to the chest of drawer and put the other birth certificates in the box where she kept all the important papers.

“Was the baby a boy or a girl?” I asked because the idea of a missing sibling intrigued me.

“I don’t remember. It was a miscarriage. Something was wrong with the baby.” She kept moving away from me and I was too enthralled with this new knowledge to let it go.

“But, how could you not remember?’

“It’s been a long time ago. I don’t remember anymore.” She walked out of the bedroom.

I let the topic drop because she wouldn’t give me any information. I didn’t take up the question again until years later when my mother, then in her 80s, wrote a short autobiography at my request. She mentioned the loss of a baby somewhere around 1946. My sister would have been going on four years old.

My sister doesn’t remember anything, but she would have been three going on four. My favorite aunt and uncle said they didn’t know anything about a pregnancy which seems hard to believe if the child was a live birth.

As I reflect on that lost baby, I wonder how that colored her reaction to being pregnant with me and to my birth. Maybe that accounts for the way she protected me against everything and everyone. I’ll never know the answers to my questions, which are a circumstance of my birth.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (QuoinMonkey),  PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey)

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