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vietnam_rel01

Relief Map of Vietnam, 2001, Public Domain, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.



I’m a connoisseur of maps. I tape, tack, and paste them up around me in all environments:  work, studio, home, journals, and sketchbooks. My blog partner ybonesy is visiting Vietnam for a few weeks and I’m following her progress — from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), north to Da Nang, and even further north and inland to Hanoi.

Are there any other map lovers out there? I thought some of you might want to travel along, a vicarious December trip to Vietnam.

There are reams of maps across the Internet. One of my favorite places to visit is Sacred Destinations, a site that contains satellite maps of sacred places all across the world. With a view much like Google Maps, you can click on the little blue balloons and find links to photographs and commentary on each site.

Though her schedule is tight and structured and she may not have time to do much sightseeing, I wanted to note that one of the oldest sacred destinations in Vietnam, Thien Mu Pagoda, is just north of ybonesy’s weekend destination in Da Nang, right outside the city of Hue:


Built in 1601 between a river and a pine forest, the Thien Mu Pagoda (“Heavenly Lady Pagoda”) in Hue is one of the oldest and prettiest religious buildings in the country. Among the many interesting artifacts housed at the complex is the car that took the monk Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation in 1963 Saigon.


The power of place. You can read more about Thien Mu Pagoda at Sacred Destinations, along with history and photographs. You can also upload reasonably priced PDF travel guides at Travelfish. And find a collection of over 250,000 maps covering all areas of the world at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.




Dear yb,

I’m thinking about you half way across the world and holding the space (imagine virtual map pins with tiny red-dotted heads!). Because of one of your travel questions, I learned today that Minnesota has the 13th largest Vietnamese population in the U.S.

I miss you on red Ravine and look forward to your next check-in. Hope your journey is going well.

oo,

QM




  vietnam   vietnam   vietnam   vietnam


This is ybonesy’s second trip to Vietnam this year. To read more about her travels, see her posts and doodles below:

 

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 6th, 2008

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Stellas Fish Cafe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

Stella’s Fish Cafe, NightShots Series, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.










July summer night
if only I could eat fish
I’d dine at Stella’s











Note: I’ve been going back through archived photos from the last year. This was a drive-by shooting out near Calhoun Square last July. I’d just had dinner with two writer friends and we were giving a Wisconsin native the tour of Minneapolis, including writers’ homes, Birchbark Books, the Mississippi River, the Minnesota Zen Center on Lake Calhoun, and a few great places to eat. The I-35 bridge construction was just meeting in the middle, so we also walked out to see the construction progress at sunset.

When we reached Uptown, it was approaching dark; I looked up to see this great shot of Stella’s. If only I could eat fish! Well, I can eat shellfish but am allergic to all other kinds. Maybe I can stop by after all. As for the photography, I like to write in the morning when I’m fresh, but I’m a total Night Owl and some of my best shots are taken at night.

Last night I was in the studio until 2 a.m. Below are some other Night Owl posts from over the years. Are you a Night Owl or a Morning Person? Has it changed over time?



-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, November 9th, 2008

-related to post: haiku (one-a-day)

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Truth & Beauty, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Truth & Beauty, cover of Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s been a long couple of weeks. Sometimes it feels like the world’s gone mad. Where do you go to find ground? Go to what soothes you. For me it is my practices. One of those practices is gratitude.

When I was thinking of what I wanted to post at week’s end, I returned to our Poetry & Meditation group of a few weeks ago. After Robert Frost, homemade rhubarb cookies, and chamomile tea, I asked Teri if I could take another look at her postcard from Ann Patchett.



The Box & The Egg, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ann & Lucy, back cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.[a friendship], cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



See the hardcover of Truth & Beauty, the one with the box and the egg? Well, there’s another cover, a paperback, with an illustration of a grasshopper and an ant. Teri wrote to Ann, thanked her for her work, and asked — why two covers? And what’s the meaning behind the box and the egg?



Ann wrote back.



Sunset Produce, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Nashville, TN, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Here’s what she said:




Dear Teri,

Sorry to be so slow in answering your question about the cover of Truth & Beauty. I had nothing to do with it but I like it a lot. I think you’re right — fragile egg, protective box = Lucy + me, but I like the fact that it’s open to interpretation. It’s a cover that makes you think instead of being an illustration. Also, I love the paperback cover of the grasshopper and ant.


Thanks For Reading!, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Thanks for reading!

Yours,
Ann Patchett





 
I read the postcard again, turned the handwriting over in my hands, and felt immense gratitude at Patchett’s willingness to give back to a fellow writer. Perhaps it’s a small thing. But I don’t think so. She probably gets hundreds of postcards. A writer’s time is valuable. She didn’t have to write back.

And so, it is with gratitude I end the week. On one of those Fridays when I’m sure the world has gone insane, I’m happy to express my appreciation for one of the writers who came before us. And raise a glass to a few moments of peace.



Jumbo, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We are big fans of Ann Patchett on red Ravine. To read more about this accomplished author, check out these posts:




Post Script: Is there anything you’re grateful for this week? It helps me to make a list (the little things count the most). Gratitude to Teri for sharing her postcard with us. And for taking the risk of writing it. It was almost exactly a year ago (October 16th, 2007) when we sat in the Fitzgerald Theater together to hear Ann speak.

It’s been my experience that many famous writers are generous with their time and energy, and encouraging to fledgling, up-and-coming writers. If you have a favorite writer or poet, maybe you’ll want to take a chance — write to them. You might one day open your mailbox to a pleasant surprise.



Truth & Beauty II, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Handwriting, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Truth & Beauty II, cover of Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Handwriting, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Truth & Beauty II, Handwriting, cover of Truth & Beauty, postcard from Ann Patchett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2008, all photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, October 3rd, 2008

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The Ant & The Grasshopper, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


At Sarah Lawrence College, Ann Patchett admired the hugely popular Lucy Grealy from afar, never realizing that the two were destined to become the greatest of friends. Ann wrote short stories that people liked but was not someone they remembered. Lucy was the one everyone knew.

Talented poet, waif who as a child lost part of her jaw to cancer, Lucy ran the Friday night film series back at Sarah Lawrence. Students chanted “LOO-cee, LOO-cee, LOO-cee,” and crowded into the coffee shop to hear her read her poetry. Ann sat in the audience, watching, believing they might have something in common.

Now this. It is August 1985. Ann and Lucy are the only two from their graduation class who’ve been accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Lucy couldn’t afford her own place; hence, the two are roommates, meeting up for the first time since arriving in Iowa City. Ann stands in their empty house, and like a banshee Lucy shoots through the door and throws her ninety-five-pound body on to Ann, locking arms around neck and legs around waist.

Here is Patchett writing in her memoir Truth & Beauty: A Friendship:

I do not remember our love unfolding, that we got to know one another and in time became friends. I only remember that she came through the door and it was there, huge and permanent and first.

And so their friendship began. Instantaneous, complex, epic. It lasted seventeen years, until 2002. Lucy died in December of that year of a drug overdose — ruled accidental — at the age of thirty-nine. 

Writing Truth & Beauty, Patchett said, was part of her mourning process: “I wrote a book about us. I wrote it as a way to memorialize her and mourn her, and as a way of keeping her own important memoir, Autobiography of a Face, alive, even as I had not been able to keep her alive. This was a story of a Herculean effort to endure hardship, and to be a friend.”




The Ant & The Grasshopper

Throughout the book, Patchett draws on Aesop’s fable of “The Ant & The Grasshopper” as metaphor for her relationship with Grealy. Ann is the industrious Ant, laboring through summer to have food in winter. Grasshopper Lucy whiles away time, too concerned with the business of living to think about the future.

When winter comes, Grasshopper finds himself dying of hunger, while Ant eats from the stores collected in the summer. But in her version of the fable, Patchett makes this modification:

What the story didn’t tell you is that the ant relented at the eleventh hour and took in the grasshopper when the weather was hard, fed him on his tenderest store of grass all winter…Grasshoppers … find the ants … They need us to survive, but we need them as well. They were the ones who brought the truth and beauty to the party, which Lucy could tell you as she recited her Keats over breakfast, was better than food any day.

And so Patchett tells the whole story of Ant and Grasshopper — their dependencies and differences, the sordid details of their lives.

Ann and Lucy were creative muse to one another, better off together than apart. “We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.” They were physically in the same city only for a small portion of their long friendship. Ann eventually settled back home, in Nashville, while Lucy’s home base was the glamour and glitter and grit of New York City.

Apart and together, they shared a deep desire to become real writers. Writing was not only salvation but the one thing that made the two of them interesting. And Lucy, with her celebrity and high drama, made Ann more interesting and more alive:

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.

Even so, for all their soul-deep connection, these two friends grew apart. Lucy became more needy, Ann less patient. Each became her own person.


Year of the Grasshopper

On the back cover of her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy is quoted: “I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison.”

Autobiography of a Face made Lucy famous. She struck the universal chord — of wanting to belong, to not be different.

The memoir starts with the diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma at age nine. After chemotherapy and radiation, reconstruction began. Lucy’s life was on hold as she waited for surgery after surgery — thirty-eight total — to bring forth normalcy, possibly even beauty.

While she waited, her insecurities deepened, becoming incessant and overwhelming. Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty? Why doesn’t he love me? Will I ever have sex again? She wanted to be loved, but more than anything, she wanted to give love. She confused sex for love.

Grealy wrote of early drug use in Autobiography of a Face. She got codeine pills for each surgery and root canal, and after a while, even when she wasn’t in pain, she took the pills for the milky high they offered.

No matter how bad I felt about the world, about my position in it, I felt safe and secure and even rather happy thirty or forty minutes after I’d downed a couple of pills.

In spite of securing a book contract on the heels of her memoir, Grealy struggled with writing. The surgeries became more painful and less effective, her loneliness deeper and more despairing. She could hardly swallow food, and the physical pain intensified. She was tormented by self-hatred. Eventually she got hooked on heroin. She lost the book contract, lost the trust of her friends, and eventually lost her life.



Year of the Ant

Ann was a product of twelve years of Catholic school, “where we were not in the business of discovering our individuality.” Her Ant traits included:

  1. Enviable work ethic, writing her novel “as if it were a factory job.”
  2. Balance.
  3. Responsible (she funded her own degree, prepared for classes she taught, and used every writing fellowship to get actual writing done).
  4. A tendency to “blur into other people.”
  5. Tidy (“Unlike Lucy, I could never give myself so completely over to my art that I would not notice the half-eaten plate of spaghetti in the middle of the living room floor.”).
  6. Above all, always going to be fine; “It’s your blessing and your curse,” Lucy once told her.

From the moment Lucy jumped into her arms in their Iowa City rental house, until almost the end of Lucy’s life, Ann carried Lucy. Physically at times, and emotionally. Ann was present during Lucy’s many jaw reconstruction surgeries, holding her head while she puked into a pan or serving as patient advocate with medical staff. More fundamentally, Ann soothed as best she could Lucy’s constant self-doubt and tried to boost her esteem.

It was the single thing I wanted most for Lucy, to have a minute of peace from her relentless desire to understand why she hadn’t found True Love.

Toward the end of Lucy’s life, as her emotional and physical pain spiraled out of Ann’s control, the pragmatist Ant sought tangible ways to help the Grasshopper — sorting and paying bills or furnishing a new kitchen. Ann tried to get Lucy to move from New York to Nashville, to go through a sort of Ant-inspired rehab. Shelter, soft “Lucy food,” love.

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

 




It’s natural to look at your closest friends and wonder how you’re different from them and how you’re the same. Early on, the differences are exotic. Have you ever been attracted to a friend who is so spontaneous — pure in-the-moment grasshopper — that you can’t help but be drawn to their energy? There’s something about how natural Grasshopper is, without filters and boundaries, that makes Ant more natural.

But then your ant nature kicks in. Try as you may, you can’t stop from becoming critical. Ant watches Grasshopper refuse to plan for the future or seem unable to take cues on when to stop talking about herself. Enough already! you want to say. Grow up! It’s not all about you.

The further I got into Truth & Beauty, the more I grew impatient with Lucy. I found that my admiration for her brilliance dulled at certain points, overtaken by my exasperation with her obsessions and insecurities. Yet, when I was done, I admired even more the deep, pure writing that came out of those same obsessions and insecurities.

My face may have closed the door on love and beauty in their fleeting states, but didn’t my face also open me up to perceptions I might otherwise be blind to? At the end of each day, as I lay in the bathtub, I looked at my undeveloped child’s body. I considered the desire to have it develop into a woman’s body a weakness, a straying from my chosen path of truth. And as I lay in bed at night, I considered my powers, my heightened sense of self-awareness, feeling not as if I had chosen this path, but that it had been chosen for me.

I also at times winced at the bald honesty with which Patchett laid her truth on the line. Ann admitting to Lucy her growing revulsion at how Lucy lived her life. Lucy calling Ann on her superiority, her got-it-all-togetherness: “…at least I can make you feel like a saint. That’s what you’ve always wanted.”

I read Grealy’s book first, then Patchett’s, then Grealy’s again, this time looking for clues as to what really caused her addictions and eventual death. Was it the cancer or the shame that came with having part of her face caved in? Or was there something in her core – recklessness, risk-taking – that was apparent early on?

I came to no conclusions. Or rather, I came to the conclusion that writing memoir is the most courageous and risky kind of writing one can undertake.

Not everyone loved Truth & Beauty. At Clemson University in South Carolina, Patchett’s book generated enormous and uninformed criticism for its portrayal of drugs, sex, and women in romantic relationship. Patchett talks about that firestorm in an essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 2007 and again in an interview with the same magazine.

Lucy Grealy’s older sister, Suellen Grealy, wrote a heartbreaking essay titled “Hijacked by grief,” in which she lashes out at the “not so gifted” Ann Patchett for “hitching her wagon” to Lucy’s star. These jabs stand out against an almost polite tone of desperation, a genuine longing for privacy and a return to wholeness for a family that has been picked apart.

Ann and Lucy started out believing writing might save their lives. Each walked the long, arduous road to become a writer. But even when a writer is brilliant and talented, and even when a writer possesses equanimity and self-control, writing will not save one’s life.

Writing does, however, demand that you be willing to let go, to let it out, to write the truth as you know it.

 

Must-Read – Must-Hear



Must-See

Charlie Rose interviewed Lucy Grealy on November 16, 1994. She is the last guest on his hour-long program. Her interview starts approximately at 38:20 on the youtube video below. [Note: It’s advised that you let the show run its course versus trying to fast-forward to the start of the interview; the latter might cause audio and video to get out of sync.]







-Related to posts Ann Patchett – On Truth, Beauty, & The Adventures Of “Opera Girl” and Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read?

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Natalie Goldberg, image by Mary Fiedt, all rights reserved.     Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.
Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg, images provided by Simon & Schuster, photo of Goldberg © 2008 by Mary Feidt. All rights reserved.




On Thursday, April 10, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Natalie Goldberg, author of the recently released Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. The interview was especially meaningful in that red Ravine originated from a friendship, and vision, developed while QM and ybonesy were in a year-long writing Intensive with Goldberg, in Taos, New Mexico.

Goldberg had just completed a book tour across several Western states when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her Santa Fe home. They talked about the new book and about Goldberg’s life as a writer and painter, friendships that sustain her, the loneliness of writing, and the most important thing she’s learned from her students.



Interview with Natalie Goldberg, April 10, 2008, red Ravine


red Ravine: There’s a moving passage in Old Friend From Far Away on page 69, which I’m going to read: 

In 1977 on Morada Lane in a small adobe behind a coyote fence I taught the first writing practice group to eight Taos Women. For the last twenty years I have taught these same workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House a few hundred yards farther up on Morada Lane. I joke: I have not gone a very far distance in my life.
     Students come and go. Eventually we all will die. I fear I will have forgotten to die. I’ll be standing in front of the class after everyone I know has long passed.
     “Class, get out your pens.”
     Please help me. If all of you write right now, maybe I can let go and die too. My job will be complete.

Talk about what that passage means, Natalie.

Natalie: Basically, I had this feeling one day that everybody was going to die and I was still going to have to keep teaching Writing Practice; that it was so important and so essential and people weren’t going to let me die. They were just going to keep coming and studying with me and that my books wouldn’t have given enough.

What I didn’t say actually in that chapter is that I hoped to make a book that would be like studying with me. I wanted to make this book — the structure and the rhythm — so that it was the closest to what it’s like to be in the classroom with me. So that someday I, too, can die. I think when we die, finally, we really completely let go. I don’t think I’d be able to completely let go unless I felt there was some record students could follow to learn this wonderful Practice.


red Ravine: Years ago, at the beginning of your adult life when you were in the midst of studying with Katagiri Roshi, you were on a path toward assuming that lineage. What caused you to move away from that path and go with writing instead?

Natalie: That’s a good question. We complain about our lives, but the truth is we usually get what we want. A lot of people say, “I wanted to write and I wanted to do this.” If they really wanted it and it really burned in them, they would do it and they would figure it out. And not everybody has that.

Some people are happy taking classes, milling around with writing, and the truth is they like their lives and they like their jobs. I found that I put in time with writing. When it came down to the wire, my ass was on the line for writing. Even though I showed up all the time for Zen, when you asked me, my drive was for writing.

So it actually happened very naturally. We worry so much, What should we do, what should we do? but life also unfolds. For you (addressing QuoinMonkey), for example, you keep talking about wanting to teach Writing Practice, but we don’t know. And you’ve had some offers, but, finally, you’ll see if it unfolds and if it feels right for you.

You know that’s true with everybody. What we want unfolds. So I think I saw that writing was where I really put my life, my whole life. And even though I deeply, deeply loved Zen, it wasn’t in the same way, deep in the musculature of my body. I didn’t put my life on the line in the same way.

Now that I’m older I realize that I didn’t have to pick. That the two actually came together. But when you’re young you think you have to pick. When you’re young you can drive yourself crazy and think you have to pick. But look, Zen and writing, I can’t separate them. I didn’t choose one over the other. I chose both.


red Ravine: You also chose to be a writer and an artist. How do you balance those passions, and do you ever feel that you are more one than the other?

Natalie: I’m a writer. I know that. And when I’m painting a lot, I’m so in love with it. I think, Oh, I should have been a painter. But I wouldn’t be willing to do (for painting) what I’m willing to do for writing. I’ll go anywhere, face anything for writing.

Painting is my darling pleasure. And because it’s a pleasure, I don’t push myself a lot with it. Like what I said about writing and Zen, if I really look at it (painting), it’s important to me and it feeds my life and I relax with it. I relax and don’t worry about when I do it, if I do it.

For instance, I was in Point Reyes, California for a month in May, and I painted a lot then. Since I came home, I haven’t painted in over 6 months. So part of me thinks, Oh, painting is done. Then about three weeks ago, I realized, No painting’s not done. You’re writing these essays, and these essays use the same energy that painting does.

In a way, an essay is like a square canvas where I try to fit in as much detail as I can. That’s what I do with painting. I realized that I hadn’t been painting because I was painting with my writing. As soon as I realized that, of course, I’ve just done three paintings (laughs). I just went back into the studio.

People want a clear delineation: I write for four hours a day, then I paint for two hours. Life isn’t like that. It unfolds.

For instance, I was burning to learn abstract painting, which I talked about in Living Color. So, 15 years ago, I started to do it; I’d go out on a picnic table in Taos, in Kit Carson Park, and I’d just do abstracts, or what I thought were abstracts. I didn’t think they were that good. Literally, last night, I pulled out those notebooks and they’re some of the best abstracts I’ve ever done. They’re wonderful.

Do you see what I mean? We have the idea that, No, they should be better now because I’ve been doing it for 15 years. But maybe when I was really burning for them was when they really came to me. There’s no linear thing. Basically, you have to have a soft heart and a willingness just to make that first step and step in. And you get wet.

Just like you (addressing ybonesy). You have an important straight job, and then you go to half time for a while so you can do more art. Then you go back to full time. Our life is a spiral. And you also realize, I like this work I do. And I like painting. It doesn’t have to be either/or.


red Ravine: One of the things we want to talk about is loneliness — because writing is lonely. There’s a chapter in Writing Down the Bones called “Engendering Compassion” where you talk about the Black Dog, Loneliness. You say, “When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, Loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.” After 35 years of writing and teaching, has your relationship with the Black Dog changed? And when you feel lonely or empty, where do you go to refill the well?

Natalie: That’s a really good question. I want to say, “Oh yes, I have a much better relationship with it,” but right now, I’m dealing with (the fact that) my mother died three months ago. So the loneliness is so deep. Whatever engendered it when I was a child is just burning in me now.

Everything I think I know about loneliness has been swept under and I just feel this gnawing emptiness. And it’s painful. The only thing I know is to try to have a little bit of softness toward it and allow it to be, and at the same time not allow it to take over my entire life.

It’s a very tricky thing. But I do want to say that, yes, a writer’s life can be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important to have writing friends. Don’t expect the agent or the editor or the publishing world to be your friend and to be your support. You need writing friends who understand what you’re doing and support you and that you can share this hard and wonderful process with.


red Ravine: Natalie, speaking of friends, do you have a writing friend who has stuck with you through everything?

Natalie: Yeah, Rob Wilder and Eddie Lewis, I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. I’d say also, John Thorndike, though he lives in Ohio now. He used to live in New Mexico and he was a deep writing friend and still is.

But the people who live near are Rob and Eddie and Henry Shukman, too, but he’s English so often he’s in England for long periods. But Eddie and Rob have been consistently there, people I can always rely on. That’s been very important to me.

I know when I have something, I can share with them, I can talk about it. Knowing that I have them, I don’t even call that much. But I know that they’re there. Sometimes just knowing that person’s there is very important.


red Ravine: Can you talk a little bit about what happens to the friendship when you are working on a book?

Natalie: Yeah, sometimes there are periods when I’m working a lot, that Eddie is home a lot, he’s sort of like a housewife, so I’ll call him. Mostly we joke, or I’ll complain about writing. When I’m working on something I don’t talk a lot about it. I’ll just call and complain or ask how to spell something. Or, “Eddie what was that word? I need that word,” or we just joke. But I know he knows I’m writing. And he knows what that is.

And there’s Rob. I asked him and his wife (Lala Carroll) to help me when I read at Collected Works. I said, “Could you be my date?” Rob had a party for me afterwards. Eddie hung out with me and stayed with me at the bookstore. It’s almost mechanical sometimes — “Can you come to the reading with me?” or “Would you read what I wrote and tell me it’s wonderful?” (laughs)


red Ravine: At this moment who are your favorite painters and writers, and what books are you reading right now?

Natalie: I am reading a killer book. I’m almost done with it. I’m going to assign it to my students in the August retreat. It’s called Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. I have 20 pages left, and it’s a magnificent book.

I’m reading that and right before that, Patricia Hampl, who wrote Romantic Education. She has a new memoir called The Florist’s Daughter that just knocked me out. It was a sensational book. No one writes memoir like Patricia Hampl.

I’m teaching at IAIA one night a week with Rob Wilder this Spring semester. (Institute of American Indian Arts is a federally-funded college for Native Americans, who attend from all over the country.) I have to say, my students in that class are some of my most favorite writers who I admire.

These kids have not been incorporated, in some ways, with all the politeness and all the neuroses of white American comfortable society. A lot of these kids come from very broken lives and they don’t have a lot of protection between them and wild mind. So when they write, it brings me back to the original way I learned how to understand Writing Practice. Because I really developed it with Chippewa kids and African American kids in Minneapolis and in Detroit.

They’re some of my favorite writers, these kids that I’m working with now. They’re not kids, they’re adults…They’re college kids, but their writing — they have no explanation. They just put things as they are. And they’re not aware that they’re not supposed to write about these things so they just lay it down on the page. I’m being incredibly inspired by them, remembering the origins of writing. That’s been very, very exciting for me.

In painting, well, I just love painting. Painting is my darling pleasure. When I went on the book tour, people would think I’d go to bookstores a lot. No, that’s my job! When I went into town, I’d go to the art museums and to galleries. That would relax me and give me a whole other outlet.

I love Wolf Kahn, Joan Mitchell. I love to look at local paintings. There’s a painter in Albuquerque who shows in Santa Fe, Tim Craighead. I’m just crazy about him. He shows at the Gerald Peters Gallery.

For the O’Keeffe Museum next week, I’m taking a group (on something) called Walks in the West, and I’m taking them to all the spots where Marsden Hartley painted. He spent a year in Taos. So we’re going to drive up and I’m going to take them for that slow walk to the cross. We’re going to have lunch at Mabel Dodge. It’ll be wonderful.

One more painter I just thought of I want to mention: David Park. I just wrote an essay about him. Helen Bigelow is a friend of mine and an old student who came to study with me at Mabel Dodge. Her father was David Park, and he was a contemporary of Richard Diebenkorn. He’s part of the California Figurative School. I saw an incredible painting of his hanging at the Whitney last year. He made it really big. He died when he was young, at 46.


red Ravine: In Old Friend From Far Away, and also from studying with you, we’ve heard you say that memoir isn’t necessarily about a person’s entire life; it can be about a portion of one’s life. You’ve written Long Quiet Highway about the portion of your life where you studied with Katagiri Roshi, and The Great Failure clarifying the truth you knew about that time in your life. What part of your life, Natalie, do you still want to write about?

Natalie: I’d kind of like to write about my mother. But it’s so complicated for me right now that I don’t see my way clear. Maybe at some point, I’d like to write about my mother.

Except for Banana Rose, I really haven’t written very much about my love life. And I’d kind of like to write about that, but I’m afraid that people who were my lovers will kill me (laughs). So I haven’t done that.

And I think I’d like to write something about what I know about Zen. Though I might have written that already in Old Friend From Far Away. Even though I didn’t mention Zen.


red Ravine: You’ve seen students drop everything in their lives and attempt to become writers. Why doesn’t it always work to get rid of the obstacles and just become a writer?

Natalie: Yeah, it doesn’t work, because suddenly you have all the time in the world and you freeze. It puts too much pressure on writing. Also, we’re social animals and writing is a lonely thing.

In a way, my mistake was to do writing full time. I missed having a job where I could just show up and have to work and have to forget about me and my writing and my life. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

In Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — which came out, I think, in the 70’s — there was a study where housewives who had all day to clean the house by the end of the day didn’t get any of it cleaned. Those same women, when they got a full-time job, managed in the half hour before they went to work to get all their housework done.

It’s almost that you have more time to feel guilty that you’re not writing. I think that having a bit of a structure and knowing at 1 o’clock I have to go do my other job, it sort of kicks ass. You don’t have so much time to wander around. You have to write — sit down and actually do it.


red Ravine: Describe a typical day in your life. When you’re not promoting a book, what are you doing?

Natalie: I’m running a lot of errands, which I don’t seem to have done in Taos. But in Santa Fe I don’t know why I have so many errands to run (laughs).

I go to yoga classes 3 days a week, from 9:30 to 11. And the yoga class is right near my studio. So if I’m a good girl, I go to yoga and then immediately go to my studio. But then I have my computer at my studio, so I end up doing a lot of business first. And then settling down, either sometimes to write or paint.

But if you really look at my life — at this point, I’ve been writing for 35 years — every book takes a different need, requires different things. For instance, I wrote a lot of Old Friend going on hikes, and at the same time I had broken up an 11-year relationship. My heart was broken. I would go to my studio and I just didn’t want to stay there. I’d go on these long hikes, and I’d bring my backpack, and luckily I brought a little notebook, not planning to write. But as I walked the world would open up for me. I’d sit down on the side of the trail and write whole chapters.

I can’t give you any prescription of my life. If you ask me, my life is kind of chaotic. Like today, after we’re done, I’ll go to this wonderful café near IAIA, which is way south of town, like 25 minutes. But I’ll go there and I’ll do some work for a few hours and then I’m going to go to a lecture at IAIA. I use things in the outside world to structure my inner life of writing.

I’m not a bulldog like I used to be where I pushed everything aside for writing. Writing fits in now and weaves in with the rest of my life. The human life just goes forward. But this is after 35 years where I have enough confidence. Also, I’m tired of making writing the first thing. I don’t need to anymore because I have enough confidence.


red Ravine: How are your creative processes around writing and painting different?

Natalie: When I’m writing it takes all of me. I mean every single cell. When I’m really writing it takes every cell in my body, total concentration, and my whole life is in it. My whole life is on the line.

When I’m painting, I’m whistling, I’m playing music, I’m just happy. The predominant emotion is happiness. With writing there isn’t any predominant emotion. My whole life is distilled into that task. And I give my life over into the tip of that task. I want to say my whole life is distilled into god — if god is everything.


red Ravine: In many respects, because of what you teach and how you teach it, you’ve become a symbol of the notion that anyone can write. Is it true — can anyone write?

Natalie: Absolutely. Yes. They might not become Faulkner. A lot of people don’t want to become Faulkner. But anyone can pick up that pen and express their human life. And if they want to they can get better and better at it. Everyone can write. Everyone should have access to writing. It’s a very human activity. Human beings want to have a place where they can express themselves in language.


red Ravine: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your students.

Natalie: That I love them. I know this sounds odd but when I’m actually teaching, I have to keep a lot of boundaries. You took an Intensive with me, and I had to hold you when you kind of all hated me or didn’t want to come back. I had to hold your resistance and be a still point. That’s hard.

I have a tremendous amount of equilibrium when I teach and not a lot of opinion. But when I went on this book tour where I wasn’t the teacher, and my students showed up, I cannot tell you the overwhelming love I felt for all of you. I just couldn’t believe it.

Because, really, why am I willing to hold that all for you? It’s because I love you. I didn’t ever quite know that before. I would say things like, “because it’s practice, because this, because of that”…but I realize now, it’s because the love –- ‘cause I love you — that I’m willing to do it for all of you.

ybonesy: Wow, that’s really moving. (pause)


red Ravine: Do you ever get tired of teaching?

Natalie: Right now, I’m quite in love with it. There was a period, remember after The Great Failure came out, I took a year off. When I came back I hated teaching. I had never hated teaching. My teaching was really good, I could see everyone loved it, I knew it was good, the students were great — and I hated it. And I didn’t know what to do.

Every time I taught for several months, it was like that. It was actually taking everybody that week, when I took you all to Ghost Ranch, that something happened and it broke. After that I kind of loved it again. Not only kind of loved it; I loved it more than ever. Ever since then I just enjoy every time I teach. I’m so excited to share Writing Practice with everyone. And to share this wonderful thing that I know. I’ll be teaching for the rest of my life.


red Ravine: Natalie, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life so far.

Natalie: I guess, developing and recognizing Writing Practice, staying with it, continually giving it to the world.


red Ravine: In your next life, what would you like to be?

Natalie: An opera singer (laughs). Did you ever read The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather about a poor young girl in a small town in Colorado who becomes a great opera singer? I want to be an opera singer.


red Ravine: If it were your last day on earth, how would you spend it?

Natalie: Oh. I think I would be really sad. Because I would be grieving not seeing it anymore. Not seeing the trees, I’m looking out my window..the piñon tree, not seeing the sky, not having hands and feet. I think I would really be very deeply sad. And very still. Full of gratitude and grief.


red Ravine: Natalie, why do you write?

Natalie: Ummmm…because I’m a dope? (everyone laughs). Because…Of everything I do in my life, it feels the most real, the most to the point, and the most honest.


red Ravine: What are you working on next?

Natalie: I’m working on these essays. Some of them I’ve published in Shambhala Sun. I’m hoping to put together a collection of essays. I’m also working on something else which is a secret. None of my writing has ever been a secret before. But this is so different than anything I’ve written, I haven’t told anybody. And I don’t know when — maybe in 8 months or so — I’ll be able to say something.


red Ravine: As a writer and an artist, how do you define success?

Natalie: On one level it’s that I feel good about it and I enjoy it. That’s the real success. But because I’m a human being in the world, I like that I’m able to make a living at it, that I have it as my job, that I have a career with it. I don’t know if that’s success though. It’s pleasurable and I’m proud of it. But I think the real success is that I continue. And that I continually take pleasure in it. And that it’s alive for me.


red Ravine: Natalie, it’s really been a privilege to spend this time with you. We want to thank you. We thought we’d end by having you read us a passage from Old Friend from Far Away.

Natalie: I might read one I know I like. Okay, you ready? It’s called “Vast”:

Vast

We write memoir not to remember, not to cling, but to honor and let go. Wave after wave splashes on the shore and is gone. Your mother once wore an embroidered Mexican peasant shirt, had gleaming teeth and a full head of black hair. She pushed the hammock you lay in, a million oak leaves above your head. You didn’t know yet your first word. You were slow to learn to talk and your first step was as enormous as an elephant’s. Her waist was below her blouse and you could hide in a voluminous maroon skirt. Sharp was the blue sky, the white porch steps.
     Here’s your mother now, frail at one hundred pounds, hearing aids plopped above her lobes, eyes a pale glaze seeing only form and shadow, in her own crooked way heading for another country.
     Let her be as she is. You can’t save her. You can only remember as she dissolves. With one arm you reach all the way back and with your other arm you steady the walker that she grasps before her.
     But don’t fool yourself. However old your mother is, you are always walking into vast rooms full of beginnings and endings, abundant with possibility. Try the empty cubicle of your page. What can you scratch in it before your turn comes to step up to the vast ocean all by yourself? Go. Ten minutes.




Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.

Natalie: It was wonderful to do an interview with the two of you. I love you both and take good care. And I feel honored and thank you for doing this for red Ravine.


QuoinMonkey: I feel so much gratitude for studying with you. I really appreciate you. Thank you so much.







red Ravine posts about Natalie Goldberg:



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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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Day Of The Dead Birthday Celebration, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Day Of The Dead Birthday Celebration, detail of Halloween bouquet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We went out to dinner at Mysore Cafe in Uptown to celebrate a friend’s birthday last night. It was All Souls’ Day, day after All Saints’ Day, and both days following the Celtic rooted celebration of Halloween. The Indian vegetarian buffet was hearty and we stayed until closing, laughing, singing, telling stories, and chanting. (Yes, chanting.)

The highlight of the celebration was when we broke into Happy Birthday To You a total of 9 times over the course of the evening. There was the Traditional melody (1) when we picked the birthday girl up at her house. (She slipped into the car, and we slipped into harmony.)

Then there was the celebratory, we-found-a-parking-spot-right-in-front-of-the-restaurant Happy Birthday (2). Followed by the Marilyn Monroe to JFK, soft-puckered-lips Happy Birthday (3) before we got out of the car. We sang the Traditional version again after dinner (4), and (at the special request of the birthday girl), the low toned, Gregorian Chant Happy Birthday (5) filled the room right before we left the restaurant.

We spontaneously broke into Happy Birthday four more times on the drive home. The first was the Beatles Birthday (song) (6) when we got into the car after dinner. Then the Traditional Happy Birthday To You (7) when we pulled up in front of our friend’s house to drop her off.

There was the Johnny Depp pirate version for Halloween (8) when she got out of the car, and, as she stepped around the corner to go up to her apartment, we rolled down the windows and sang one more Traditional Happy Birthday in 4 part harmony (9). Let’s see, yeah, I think that’s 9.

We had a blast. But what I really want to say is that today, November 3rd, is the 1 Year Birthday of our first post for red Ravine. Though our blog didn’t yet have a formal name, ybonesy and I started planning and writing for red Ravine well over a year ago.

Halloween Bouquet, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Our WordPress launch date is April 7th, 2007 (and our stats only go back to April), but we’ve been at this labor-intensive, sometimes crazy, most times supportive, endeavor for well over a year. And though we have those days when it seems like too much, for the most part, after over 50,000 hits, we are going strong!


So Happy Birthday, ybonesy! It’s the one year anniversary of our formal writing for red Ravine. And if you’d like, I can see if my friends would join me across the miles in the Happy Birthday melody of your choice. (Too bad we can’t do a podcast!)


Happy Birthday, red Ravine. Long may you rock!


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

-related to posts, Back Of The Napkin & 100 Year Old Bones – The BoneWriters & RE: 100 Year Old Bones

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