There is ocean
Pacific tide washes up bay
Humpbacks in near far reach
Goats white on cliffs
Space and distance different here, bigger
Mountains behind, water ahead
Poke anenome mouths
Does that hurt?
You are seven and forget to ask
Your sense of wonder and wishing
About the bald eagles nesting front yard
About skunk cabbage so pungent
About Dungeness crabs and if they live in cells
If their home is moat with always rain
And that's how they got their name
You want to know the names of everything
And to float across seas
To Russia, Japan, Antarctic
The warmth the roots the heat. Musty flowers like gym socks.
The blower. Buzzing bug by my ear. The songbirds.
The pine cone reminds me of Juneau.
We had much pine there. We ate needles like mints.
The water the algae the bright totems.
The spiderweb dusty like unwashed laundry.
Dampness feels different underfoot than on branches.
Warmth feels different back of hand than back of neck.
A painting of layered textured oak leaves.
And the water -- fountains, streams, and that calling laughing bird.
Questions written to artwork at Boise Art Museum during a writing camp, 2015?
But today, think of them as questions for you. That's what I did.
Where do you dream of going?
How warm is the light?
How do you like purple?
How do you taste?
What is your favorite dessert?
What is your favorite desert?
Do you miss your home?
Who made you?
Why are you here?
What was your loneliest moment?
What do you wish?
What is your favorite moment in the day?
Who do you like to watch?
What is the glue inside of you made from?
How does it feel?
The glue inside you?
The clue inside you?
What is underneath your dreams?
Do you like shadows?
Do you feel sad and lonely?
What are you thinking?
Do you wish you could walk?
Do you wish you could dance?
Found on a looseleaf sheet of ruled paper while packing to move.
We're moving down the street next month, my partner and I, lucky dogs.
I'm not sure when I wrote this.
After the 2016 election, I imagine. And probably winter.
Though maybe my last year of grad school.
I am a big bunch of mixed-up words
My dad always said life is a series of minor corrections.
My days are full of head-scratching
Too much internet
Sleeping a lot these days
Is it the weather? Politics?
Now I'm writing. My favorite moment.
The room is warm.
I touch my cheek for cool.
The empty room.
Sometimes it's warm, solitude.
And I get a lot done.
Sometimes it's gruesome, a burn at my chest in forest fire.
Loneliness tastes hard at the back of my teeth like a filling.
Metallic and everywhere when it's near,
Swimming a pool of spaghetti
The brimming waves take over the room like static
The sound of gratitude and a stirring heart
I can etch out my truth in loneliness
I am a heart of song
The truth is nutty to assemble
This past Tuesday at The Cabin's Free First Tuesday Drop In Writing Workshop, we built our dream worlds, creating new worlds using our biggest-heart-melting desires, metaphor and animal instincts.
We started by reading an excerpt from one of Tina Rowley's fun and fierce weekly newsletters: Weekly Zephyr #42: The Feast of Anna Perenna, March 15th, 2018. Click on archived Zephyr link to read #42 and subscribe to her lovely newsletters!
Using Tina Rowley’s prompts, we started designing a world:
Your ideal planet. Some of you may have done this for fiction projects.
Here, create the world you would want to live in right now.
If you could change the world, what kind of world would you make?
Design your new planet or region or place. A world.
You pick the parameters. You pick everything.
The shape of the world, even. Name that shape.
And: Who lives there,
What it looks like (and use all the senses to describe)
What are all the people like (use very specific traits)
What are the natural laws/weird rules?
What’s the government? Is there one? What kind?
(Use Stephen Chrisomalis' extensive list linked from Rowley's letter!)
What makes this place so slammin’?
Start with lists of details. Try not to leave anything out.
We wrote for about twenty minutes.
Then we read and discussed Rebecca Solnit's excerpt from Book of Migrations:
From Book of Migrations
by Rebecca Solnit
It’s no coincidence that the books and posters we use to learn the alphabet from are most often animal alphabets, from aardvark to zebra, for animals constitute the primordial alphabet. I grew up with a Dr. Seuss book called On Beyond Zebra, which coined new letters for the alphabet and fabulous beasts to go with them, as though you couldn’t have innovation in one area without the other, a proposition that made perfect sense to children. Medieval Irish manuscripts are notable for their animal ornamentation around the capital letters, as though the alphabet were turning back into beasts. Like alphabets, animals constitute a finite group that can describe the whole spectrum of possibility; animals are themselves a language for describing both the bodily forms and range of dispositions of human beings. In the Middle Ages, bestiaries were a popular form of literature, occupying a niche somewhere between field guides, fairy tales, and alphabet primers. The bestiaries, and the animals they described, were part of a system in which everything had an allegorical meaning; the whole world has a text waiting to be read by those who knew its language. Elephants, for example, signify Adam and Eve in Eden, because they are supposed to conceive their young innocently, by sharing the fruit of a certain tree; they also signify the Hebrew law, because when they fall they cannot get up again. Wild goats, because they constantly seek higher pastures, signify good preachers. The Bible and the world were two equal forms of the divine text, so that animals were almost literally an alphabet, rather as they were for Aesop, who made them illustrate so many aspects of human character and conduct, with his dogs in the manger, his virtuous ants and sybaritic grasshoppers. In either version, animals make the human world clearer, give tools and emblems with which to describe and understand it. Even as recently as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, animals served as emblems of human tendencies, so that the horses in his allegory were honest workers, the pigs corrupt conspirators.
The majority of figures of speech that make the abstract concrete and imaginable are drawn from animals, human bodies, and spaces, from the wolf at the door to the arms of chairs and shoulders of roads to the excavation of buried memories. It’s the animal world that makes being human—catty, dogged, sheepish—imaginable, and the spatial realm that makes action and achievement—career plateaus, rough spots, marshy areas—describable. Sometimes it mixes: along the Cork-Kerry coast are the jutting formations Lamb’s Head, Hog’s Head, Cod’s Head, Crow Head, and Sheep’s Head. But most of the discussion about nature and the environment emphasizes a purely physical or spiritual need for it, not its imaginative role. Not long ago, I noticed an art magazine misspelling the bridle reins of the phrase on a tight rein as reign, because although they understood royalty, they had no clue about horses and their harnesses—so even the world of domestic animals was lost to them as a way of describing the human and the phrase was becoming meaningless on its way to becoming extinct. (More recently, I found myself going to ride a horse with a few carrots and a stick as aids, and the phrase became resonantly literal again.) I wonder if generations of being without contact with such spaces and beings will eventually strip down English into a kind of newspeak. After all, how many people now know how a mule kicks, or have seen bees make beelines? And when speech goes blank, imagination will have preceded it. The Natural History Museum is a museum of language, symbol, metaphor, and imagination, of the creatures that once inhabited our lives and our now fading even from our speech.
The complete development of the world as a human-only zone—the paving over and flattening of the landscape and the elimination of all creatures but food animals sequestered in factory production sites—threatens to take away not only the imaginative solace of a world beyond us, but the very language of the mind. Metaphor is a Greek word that literally means to transport something from one place to another; and in Athens the public transit system is called the Metaphor. There one can literally take the Metaphor to work, or take the last Metaphor home, though in the rest of the world metaphors serve only as a medium of imaginative travel. They are, in fact, the transportation system of the mind, the way we make connections between disparate things, and because the connections are intuitive and aesthetic, they are the essence of the ways in which we think that machines cannot. Metaphors navigate the way things span both difference and similarity; they describe a world of both dizzying variety and intricate relationships. Without metaphor the world will seem threateningly amorphous, both boringly identical with ourselves and utterly incomprehensible. Animals, with their inherent resemblances and differences, are where metaphor begins.
The essayist John Berger writes, “The first subject matter for painting was animal. Probably the first paint was blood. Prior to that, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the first metaphor was animal. Rousseau, in his Essay on the Origin of Languages, maintained that language itself began with metaphor: ‘As emotions were the first motives which induced man to speak, his first utterances were tropes (metaphors). Figurative language was the first language to be born, proper meanings were the last to be found.’ If the first metaphor was animal, it was because the essential relationship between man and animal was metaphoric…What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them.” Language is humankind’s principal creation, a pale shadow of Creation, and one that needs to come back again and again to the nonhuman world to renew itself, to draw strength and color. It requires contact with the natural worlds of the landscape, the body and the animal kingdom to connect its creations to Creation, and makes contact by metaphor.
We talked metaphors, animals, driving metaphor trucks through our worlds…
Consider the place you just created. Is it a metaphor for something?
Is there a metaphor you can insert into this place?
If you were driving a metaphor truck there, what would that be?
Do certain animals live there? Certain human bodies, spaces, that can be animals?
And we wrote scenes or poems or stories or essays or memoirs
located in the worlds we created.
As you write your ( ) in your brand new world, consider metaphor.
As though you are driving a metaphor truck through your new world.
Dig hard into this metaphor – the deeper you explore, the more real it will seem.
Consider the animals. Consider everything. Create your utopia.
Share through all your details and metaphors why this place is so important.
And why we should all live there, go there, create this place.
We wrote for almost twenty minutes. But you can write as long as you like.
Then share it with someone.
Thank you for writing with me!
Remember when you sat on one side of him and the other side was her
him lying on the floor in her house off 24th
and his pain his pain his pain abdominal you wanted to absorb it all
and then the hospital watching waiting waiting waiting until home sleep.
These recent times lying with him, a different matter.
All this starting over. Starting over. Begin again.
Go into this time completely, head forward, eyes up, breathing.
See the world. Start again. Remember your world is different. Your story different.
You don't have to compare yourself with anyone else.
You don't have to rush.
Everything in good patient time and space.
Remember when you visited him another time, same hospital
different organ removed from insides.
First gall bladder, next burst appendix.
Remember when you decided you loved him
that first time you saw him on the other side of the bar
and he limped from basketball.
Remember when you decided to tell him in coded ways
like responding in turn when he said he loved you like a sister
except you meant it in a different way
like giving him a dumb money bank with vintage jokes
or your Billy Joel sheet music anthology
or your used eyeglasses.
Remember that first time you told him love in candid response
and when you sent an email articulating love at length the next night
and two versions of a poem you wrote him five years before that
and you didn't regret but you gulped
and how you needed time room air to let that all this settle and evolve
not knowing what this is or will be
and learning to let go of control and expectation
for healthy self-care.
We grab on.
We eat our throats.
Your mouth. How round meeting mine.
Your kiss suits my longing.
Do you know I’ve loved you since I met you?
It’s true I fall easy, but I don’t stay so with most.
Not like you.
It’s an engine that continues warbling
Despite that distance I travel
Away away away.
Despite trying to shut it off.
Mashed Image-Text Splat
This past Tuesday at The Cabin's Free Drop in Writing Workshop, we dug out characters, story, landscapes, poetry and scenes that spawned from drawing exercises, from observations and poetic inspirations, and mixed them together for some cooked juxtaposition – looking for connection out of disconnection.
Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking defines the artmaking process as collecting, then connecting, then sharing and invited an exploration of that -- especially the first two steps.
Start by writing a series of observations.
Everything you’ve noticed today.
Write for 10 minutes -- try to keep your hand moving, not editing as you go.
Now, switch gears.
Consider different ways of seeing.
And the stuff our bodies can create when we’re not thinking too much.
Take five pieces of paper (you at home can grab up to 20).
In one minute, make a drawing on each of these sheets.
Don’t think. Don’t worry about thoughts like, “but I can’t draw” or “I’m not an artist.”
Pay less mind to drawing "something" at all.
Instead, get some lines on every page.
Allow the lines and curves to speak for themselves.
Use a tool that can really move fast -- Sharpies are my go-to.
See into the drawings:
Now spend five minutes adding to these drawings.
Maybe one shows you a landscape. Another a character.
An object? Yourself? An idea?
Give the image more shape, more texture.
You can focus on several, a few, one that really speaks to you.
Now, Walk Away
Step aside from your work right now and take a walk.
Maybe it’s around the room.
Maybe you go outside and enjoy what’s there.
As you walk, observe. Collect what you notice.
Take notes in your head .
We walked for 5 minutes, but you can take as long as you like. Maybe 15, 20.
As we reconvened, we noted a few things we observed so far in our time together.
Some noticed aloud, others to themselves.
Switch gears again.
Recently, I got some bookmarks from AROHO (A Room Of Her Own Foundation*).
These bookmarks contained inspiring poems and art by women.
We read three of them.
One at a time. Unlike most workshops, we didn't discuss these.
Instead, I invited us to feel what’s in the poems.
Here, you can do the same.
Let your gut, heart, spirit, body respond, more than mind.
Then write for about ten minutes after each.
You can of course write more if you want.
*Consider joining their Circle project, creative women!
won’t you celebrate with me
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
After: "won’t you celebrate with me?"
Write what you’re celebrating today. It needn’t be joyous.
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing
in the dense forest of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
Write what you’re trying to save. What you shouldn’t try to save. What not to do.
Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems
Every revolution needs fresh poems
that is the reason
poetry cannot die.
It is the reason poets
go without sleep
and sometimes without lovers
without new cars
and without fine clothes
the reason we commit
to facing the dark
resign ourselves, regularly,
to the possibility of being wrong.
Poetry is leading us.
It never cares how we will
be held by lovers
or drive fast
or look good
in the moment;
but about how completely we are committed to movement
both inner and outer;
and devoted to transformation
and to change.
After: "Every Revolution Needs Fresh Poems"
Write everything else a revolution needs. Write the reason poetry can’t die.
After reading, writing:
Do you notice any unexpected connection between what you wrote here,
What you drew,
What you noticed walking around,
And what you wrote in the beginning?
Look for pieces and strands that can connect.
Or maybe parts you don't think belong together -- might they anyway?
Put some of your words and images together.
Match up one of the images and the text you created.
Or maybe all the images can fit together on one page.
Maybe you write on the back,
Or paste little images onto another sheet paper, and write there
Or write directly on the images.
However you pair text and image, don’t worry about what fits or makes sense.
Embrace juxtaposition – connecting parts that don’t seem to go together.
See what each pairing teaches you, how it inspires new connections.
Do characters, landscapes, images from drawings connect with the writing?
Do some of the words work well with the images, even if their meanings don’t fit?
Use text from our first writing together, as well as observations from your walk.
Spend some time finessing, adding color, more words here and there.
We spent 10-15 minutes doing this, just starting.
You could spend all day on it if you like.
Or longer. Maybe it becomes a whole new project.
How can this process help in a current project?
What did you learn?
How can you use this to continue working on something you’re writing now?
Or, did you find a character, image, word, paragraph, anything emerge,
That may become a pivotal part of a creation, or even a brand new project?
Share your work with someone!
Here's something I came up with that night.
It's definitely a beginning, a sketch of an idea.
I can't tell you what it means yet -- maybe you can tell me.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to write and draw with me.
There are now TWO Free Drop In Writing Workshops per month at The Cabin! |
The regular First Tuesday Drop Ins led by me or Danny, alternating months
(plus a guest teaching writer here and there)
Are joined by the NEW Third Thursday Drop Ins (Words In Action).
So the next Drop In Writing Workshop is on February 15!
Very good things happen at The Cabin.
My dad died.
My sister visited and kept visiting.
An avalanche of panic.
I found poems under grief.
I tried introducing myself to San Francisco as this artist who gets shit done.
For the first time ever, I discovered I was the most normal person in the room.
My nephew decided he hated me. His way of mourning.
When I asked him why, he said it was my hair or socks or my laugh.
Then he turned four and liked me again. We can hug now.
I wrote myself into a squeezed pinball and created so much muchness
That after December's final performances, I overdosed on activity
And puked three times that night.
You took me on one last road trip,
Down to San Fran where I'd just been,
To San Diego where I never'd been,
Up to Vegas, the first place you took me out of town
For our 2011 birthdays, when I was sure I hated Vegas.
I don't love Vegas still but I'm not good at hating anymore.
I cried a lot during sex.
When you asked what was wrong, I blamed it on my dad.
But then your skin hurt my fingertips.
I got my first tarot reading.
Before that, I was unsure about our state of connection,
Then she said, "Inability to communicate,"
And squeezed my heart on a bench in the salty coast air
Of our school building's 6th floor zen sanctuary.
I knew we were in trouble.
I wore a mask. You pulled it off. We tried to work it out for a week.
Every time we talked, the wall between us widened.
We saw inevitable.
My family looked at me with worried eyes.
They wondered, does this begin new spiraling?
I made several plays. And books of poems. And visual, audio, performance art.
I recreated me. And found my skin worth getting to know.
Workshopping How to Hide Your Monster in the Creede, Colorado mountains, the spirals opening up this play during this development process are revealing the guts underneath each character's story. I'm glad I spent a year away from this script. Grateful to be working on it with artists who've never touched it before (the amazing Jeni Mahoney [director], Manuel Zarate [dramaturg] and a brilliant cast), whose questions and observations help me find the core heat inside and trace the strongest throughlines, tracking the outpourings that crack through the floor.
All week we've splayed open the skin to dig out the meat (every time we make that reference in the rehearsal room I imagine Han Solo slicing open the tauntaun to save Luke from hypothermia). In these last days before this version's first public reading (there will be a second in Pagosa Springs on Monday) it's about finessing the edges, sewing up this monster after its surgery to see how it moves with new life. But what else is burrowing inside this play? What other questions are driving me and what other interests, curiosities, visions? The revelation at the end is much bigger now, more Ancient Greek, Sam Shepard in its twisting. What will that unlock, and what questions might that discovery bring?
Such focused time on this play, without having to bother much with other work or responsibilities, or even my normal routine, boy it is a godsend. And this area, remote enough, these San Juan mountain surroundings and the energy here from other playwrights and artists at work...
I hope you all get a chance to get away soon, to dive into the work that you've been itching to scratch in a magical environment with smart, kind, inspiring people, too. I'm feeling quite lucky to be here now. Thank you Creede and HBMG Foundation!
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: