Category Archives: writing

Scissors to cut and to edit

Prompt #17*

Consider something extremely literal and mundane that’s central to your life and sense of well-being. How could you exalt this subject in a way that expresses its internalized value to you?

Scissors are indispensable to the quilter as actual tool and vital to the writer as a symbol for editing.

Yesterday, I cut rectangles of fabric for a crib quilt commission and cut out almost 3,000 words from my manuscript (where, by the way, snakes like this show up more than once).

The snakes add a mythic element.

Transformation: the shedding of skin.

Eternity: the snake eating its tail.

Death: by venomous fangs.

Meanwhile, The snow did NOT turn to rain as predicted.

And it‘s light and fluffy.

*

Acey’s Collage Month.

See also my Flickr album. SoulCollage and the tags here on the blog.

Where is your strength your totem

What totem, what symbol, what spirit of grace might show up at the table today?

Another provocative and well-timed prompt by Acey at the midpoint of Collage Month.*

I was flummoxed — which seemed like a version of an old script that says, ‘I have no support, no bolstering grace.’ The potential (provable) fallacy of such a view kicked up a healthy skepticism. I went off and cleaned the upstairs.

Autocorrect changed the parenthetical word above from “probable” to “provable.” The substituted sense is stronger and I will be collecting proofs of bolstering grace going forward.

Later, shifting papers around, it came to me that my totem had already shown up. Repeatedly.

It’s that silhouette. He is part ghost, part Jedi Master, part Arab (as signifier of the larger world). He looks backwards but moves forward. He shows up anywhere and everywhere. He is witness but also, IN and OF every landscape.

The figure holds mystery. How do I even know their gender?

I consciously put strips of paper in a couple of these compositions that reference language and textiles, two areas of pursuit in my life that might be considered redemptive.

The messier assemblage below points to issues of American history and racism, since those things often arise when making collages as well.

The boat etching could have come straight out of The 1619 Project: a scene of bodies being moved to a colony as chattel. Or perhaps these paddlers are already on some planter’s inventory and move merchandise from ship to shore. The gold paper scraps represent the vast sums of wealth generated on the backs of black bodies. The big bones overhanging — weighty, limiting, obscuring of the sky — represent structural racism. Lasting, like bones. Hidden, like bones. The tri-part composition seems to graphically reference the “wealth gap.”

Finally, I also came upon the photo below — an arrangement of pieced/loose sections laid out while studying the Middle Passage. The pieces never got assembled, making the picture the only incarnation of that particular thought.

*

For info on this collage project see Acey’s blog

For more SoulCollage cards of mine, go to Flickr on sidebar and open the SoulCollage album. Or, track the ‘SoulCollage’ and ‘collage’ tags here on the blog.

The ‘slavery’ tag will take you to several years of thoughts about both history and my relationship to it.

Also: The New York Times published The 1619 Project, but I didn’t link to them because of their firewall. If you subscribe, go there first. The NYTimes podcast The Daily, put out several Saturday episodes expanding on the topic which were moving and informative.

Originator of the project: Nikole Hannah-Jones @nhannahjones (on Instagram). There’s also a hashtag: #1619project.

What you need

I have trouble remembering the prompts from Acey’s posts even after re-reading them. That’s a tell that I’m being challenged.

What would I want a care package to deliver?

The above collage was one response. Support for my writing, structure, a feedback loop of encouragement, praise, even. Success would be nice!

But the first thing that came to mind is how badly I want this world to have a future. That’s what those three polar bears symbolize: us having a future.

Ram Dass’s recent passing reminded me of a time I heard him speak at Omega Institute. He shared the stage with Marilyn Ferguson, who called herself a visionary Christian. The topic was the sustainability of human life. She advocated for passionate engagement to ensure our survival (and this was in the 80’s!). But Ram Dass sat there so alive, so fully in himself and asked, “why should I be invested in our survival? In one result over another?”

Lastly, here’s a response to a prompt in this morning’s writing class (“the slightest clue can give us away”):

Who says time is an illusion? Time is a beggar, banging on my door. Time is a thief, already past the alarms, helping herself to my almonds and honey. Time is a slut, prostituting herself for just a little more indolence. Time wears a bear mask one day, a griffin face the next, and comes as Snow White for the weekend.

Solstice means Sun Standing Still

Wendell Barry’s lines: “make a poem that does not disturb / the silence from which it came,” served as a writing prompt this week. Tall order, that! In fact, those lines would make a useful weekly prompt for the rest of my life (the full Berry poem, below).

SoulCollage : Solstice

Here’s a version of what I wrote on Tuesday.

Even when lids shut, the tissue
aquiver — the scroll of light
rolling on, a form of
damnation.

I want to go through my days,
my nights, like a rib cage.
Each curving spear connected
at a central pole. Sure
in form, sure in purpose,
protecting the two wind
lobes and the single beating
fist — lungs and heart safer
for the bony embrace.

Instead, a vibrato of uncertainty.

How has the non-tactile
flow of damage gained ascendancy
over sinew and nerve,
crowding out all the places
in the body that crave
silence?

One day those ribs will spear
dirt and crumble. Shouldn’t the body
being Hand Maiden to Death wake
us out of stupor now
and then?

Let me eat a cracker
with a smidge of butter.
Let me sweep the steps free of snow
and then sleep under a blanket
that whispers ‘hallelujah.’
Let the sun falling on tabletops
stir gratitude.

The Solstice is here.
Let ‘standing still’ mean something.

Wendell Berry’s poem, “How to Be a Poet,” from “Given:”

Make a place to sit down
Sit down. Be quiet. [ . . .]

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditional air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

So many lines there to use as springboards!

I made my crack of day (not quite dawn) run to Wegman’s. Shallots, greens, prosciutto, corn meal, dill and sage, oranges and oyster mushrooms. Tonight: a Solstice Party at a neighbor’s (see last year’s post on ‘the Irish Goodbye’). I’ll bring an onion tart. Christmas Eve, dinner for eight. Ham, smashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cukes in vinegar. Slight variation on a meal I’ve made many times.

Any nice ideas for dessert?

With the boys and now my niece living so far away (LA, Boulder, San Fran), I’m really looking forward to this.

Happy Solstice to you!
May the richness of the dark touch you, nourish you,
and bring us all forward into the light.

PS I went to see if my first blog post was December 2009 so as to mention TEN YEARS of blogging. Turns out the first came December 2008. Imagine that! Eleven years here.

Mail from Michelle. More on that to come.

Also, have to post this. It goes to season, darkness, and the hope for cycling into light, after all.

 

 

Magic Words

After lunch with a friend, Finn and I made the figure eight: Jackson to Maplewood to Dudley, then home. It was almost three, so cars lined up on Cypress in front of the school and mothers with babies in slings and dogs on leashes walked past. Being so near the solstice, the sky was heavy with twilight. It will be dark long before five.

The mechanics of Tuesday writing class continue to be challenging — time and weather and whatnot, but the coalescing around words is powerful, so it all seems worthwhile. Zoom came to the rescue again.

Here is one of two poems that provided a writing prompt yesterday. From a publication (unknown) dated May 1981. Found in the clip file.

MAGIC WORDS (after Nalungiaq)

In the earliest time, / when both people and animals lived on earth, / a person could become an animal if he wanted to / and an animal could become a human being. / Sometimes they were people / and sometimes animals / and there was no difference. / All spoke the same language. / That was the time when words were like magic. / The human mind had mysterious powers. / A word spoken by chance / might have strange consequences. / It would suddenly come alive / and what people wanted to happen could happen — / all you had to do was say it. / Nobody could explain this: / That’s the way it was.

* * *

Just found this online (not including the link because it’s not secure):

Nalungiaq, an Inuit (Eskimo) woman, reported that she learned the song “Magic Words” from an elderly uncle named Unaraluk. Unaraluk was a shaman, a kind of sorcerer or priest. The song was first written down by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who was part Inuit and spoke the Inuit language, lived for some time with the Netsilik people during his expedition across arctic America, known as the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924). He collected many Netsilik legends and tales in the desire to learn about the unique view such an isolated people had developed of their world and the universe. Poet Edward Field translated many of these stories. “Magic Words” is also included in Jerome Rothenberg’s collection of traditional Native American poetry, Shaking the Pumpkin.

You can also find the poem in Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos, edited by Edward Field. Published by Education Development Center (1968).

Let’s count

One backpack full of 12 books delivered to empty neighborhood kiosk.

Three ten hour days spent fixing TV computer. One call to Comcast. Endless searches on internet. Number of consecutive good night’s sleep in absence of TV news? FIVE. Number of heroes in this story? One. My husband.

Six hundred words deleted over three hours, the equivalent of roughly 1 1/2 pages. Number of words still to delete? Don’t ask. Number of times I’ll wring my hands before the second draft’s done? Also — don’t ask.

Number of metal utensils laid out to deter dog-thieving: six. Batches of cookies baked: seven, two of them doubles. One ball of dough left.

Articles of impeachment written: two. Number of articles that COULD HAVE been written (spitballing, here): 25. Still to come: full House vote and one major shit storm in the Senate. Number of years poised at the edge of the abyss: 243.

Number of times I felt dismayed reading black twitter’s critiques of Warren: too many to count.

Seasons of The Kominksy Method watched: 1 1/2 (highly recommend).

Total library fines owed: eek! I don’t know.

Number of times I paused to notice the absence of my sister: at least a dozen. Some moments marked by relief, others by grief.

Number of rallies in support of impeachment planned for tomorrow (the eve of the House vote): more than 600.

Number of times I’ve tipped my head back to admire trees since reading “The Overstory” — too many to count. Number of people to whom I gave copies: three.

Two trips to the PO in the last five days qualifies me as a fucking saint. Three mice mailed, three mini-cloth houses.

Number of meds I forgot to take yesterday: four. Number I did take: two.

Number of days I just let go by without opening my laptop: two.

Eight days till Christmas, five ’til the shortest day of the year.

Here’s wishing all of you lots of love and joy in the days to come.