When in a crisis, look out for someone you can help.
I am working on listening.
On asking questions and listening for understanding,
not to teach or show or judge or show contention, show how smart I am.
This listening is difficult and requires attentiveness, energy and effort.
It requires an attitude that wants connection and empathy to build,
even when I have something to say that will mean something right now.
Stepping back and truly observing.
This space is white.
Consider Everything an Experiment
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, where we explored ideas, processes and words by Sister Corita Kent and Marie Howe, using them to experiment with our intention, focus and questions in creating something we need to make right now.
We started by reading Some Rules for Students and Teachers, which is often accredited to Merce Cunningham and John Cage, but was originally developed by the nun and artist Sister Corita Kent, who used art and teaching as a way to make the world better.
It's the start of the fall school semester for a lot of us.
These rules help me think about how we can be life-long teachers and students.
And how writing is a way of being a perpetual teacher student.
Is there a rule here that reverberates especially with you today?
As an artist and writer in general? What speaks to you about these rules?
Right now we'll focus on some of my favorites:
“Consider everything an experiment.”
“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time.”
And: “Save everything.”
Corita Kent had her art students cut out "finders":
Out of pieces of cardboard.
"Kent encouraged all of her students to carry a 'finder,' or a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole cut into it. The inexpensive tool, which can be made by anyone with cheap and accessible materials, acts like a lens to home in on specific facets of a given environment. 'You can then view life without being distracted by content,' the book explains. 'You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.'"
Take a sheet of paper (or cardboard), fold it in half, and cut a small box in it.
Smaller than your eye or than a glasses lens is good
But you can experiment with the size of your box too.
Spend 10 minutes looking through your little box at the world
Or spend 20 minutes, an hour, whatever you want/have.
Look through your box inside as well as outside. Look close up, far away.
Don’t so much look FOR something as let the world impact your seeing
And let the frame impact your way of seeing.
Write down everything you saw.
Let yourself be surprised by what you remember, what you write, how you write it. What you saw, how you saw.
Let it go from there too – how that seeing impacted your body/mind/heart,
What you felt, observed from other senses,
What it made you remember and discover and wonder about…
No censoring yourself, no editing, no analyzing...
Let the observations guide what you write.
Write for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.
SINGULARITY by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
--when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock
was liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming
with is is is is is
All everything home
What do you see here? What do you notice? What hits you?
Read again. Read it out loud.
Consider what you saw in the finder frame as you were looking.
Consider what you wrote and what you saw as you read.
What does this rereading cause you to think about what you saw?
Notice how questions guide this poem, how the images come from big questions.
Consider one of the rules of Sister Corita Kent.
Use that as an intention as you write your next thing.
Consider your questions for the world. Big questions.
What do you want to ask the world?
Consider the images you framed in your walk.
Bring all of these together
As you write a poem, a story, a reflection, an unnamed ungenre-ed thing.
Allow yourself to break all the rules
And write/create the thing you most need to make right now.
Use everything. Save everything.
Write for fifteen, twenty minutes, more...
And maybe at the end, find a few phrases that stand out especially,
Maybe these become the tiny framed image, the molecule, the haiku
Of everything else you wrote.
Share what you wrote with someone.
Thanks for writing and exploring with me.
Contact me if you have questions, thoughts, ideas.
Share your writing with me if you want!
chili from Mom's kitchen, best second day
twelve climbing trees, maple, birch
marsh pond with beavers chewing
tide pools by the bay, orca song
dusty tumbleweed soaked by unexpected storm
brother jumps off porch overhang
Bandit collie dog
Rajpurr the tiger
attention to detail
piles of comic books
old land rover
perch on hearth, on furnace
Ramona Quimby, Russian lit
starry eyes behind turtle shells
Memory: No Metaphor/Metaphor
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, writing a memory in different ways to discover two, three, 20 ways of seeing the same moment.
We started by reading from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was part of my fun summer reading this season.
From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
by Mark Haddon
I find people confusing.
This is for two main reasons.
The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.”
Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose, it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry, and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.
The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors
I laughed my socks off.
He was the apple of her eye.
They had a skeleton in the cupboard.
We had a real pig of a day.
The dog was stone dead.
The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it
comes from the Greek words μετα (which means from one place to another) and φερειν (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.
I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.
My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words χριστος (which means Jesus Christ) and φερειν and it was the name given to St. Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.
This makes you wonder what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story, which means that it is a lie, too.
Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.
What do you think about Christopher's idea of metaphors? That it’s a form of lying. Is it? To you? I'm not sure I agree, but it's an enjoyable perspective.
I love hearing about metaphors from a neurodiverse perspective.
Is a metaphor a lie that tells the truth? What else do you notice and pull from this short chapter?
Take a moment to find yourself in a memory.
This doesn't have to be the first that comes to mind.
Maybe it’s the third, maybe it’s buried.
Make it a strong memory. One that brings an emotional response.
Might be a favorite, might be a very difficult moment.
Might be a long time ago, might be very recent.
You can close your eyes and put yourself there.
See all around in this memory.
Notice everything you hear and feel and smell and taste.
Look forward, backward, up, down.
Pay attention to everyone there, every moment, walk yourself through this time.
Once you have this moment fully in you,
write about it in a way that Christopher might approve.
Use no metaphors. A simile might be okay, but try avoiding figurative language.
As much as possible. Metaphors, personification, hyperbole, idioms.
Try instead for very specific detail. Sensory detail. Exactitude.
Don’t leave anything out.
You can include emotions, but be sure to capture every moment.
Every moment and everything you can see, hear, taste, feel, smell.
A moment-by-moment, accurate, even objective view of everything.
Write for 20 minutes.
Great. Now let’s try for the opposite.
Take that same memory and write about it completely in metaphors.
Line by line.
The entire thing might be a metaphor, or maybe you try for one after the other.
A list of metaphors.
There can be other kinds of figurative language too.
The whole thing might be a giant fabrication, exaggeration.
You might create the myth or fairy tale version of your memory.
Or an apocryphal story.
Don’t be afraid to offend and confuse Christopher completely.
Write for 20 minutes, or as long as you can.
Which version do you prefer? Why?
Did you prefer the process of writing one version?
Do you enjoy what came out of that same writing or the other version more?
Now, write a version that blends the two, in a dealer’s choice way.
Write a new memory that’s mostly metaphor but a bit of exact detail.
Or one that is full of exact detail with a few bits of figurative language thrown in.
Two truths and a lie? Two lies and a truth?
Or take parts of what you’ve written already and combine into something new.
A blended poem or a very short bit of prose or fairy tale, based in truth.
You can use the same memory or a new one.
When you read back over what's been written, or share it with a friend,
What do you hear in what you wrote? What is meaningful? What resonates?
What is useful in this process?
What can you discover in seeing the same memory in multiple ways?
Thank you for writing with me!
Heads up: the first play of the Boise Contemporary Theater Season is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on Mark Haddon's great book.
I experienced funerals.
I found a place in school again.
I told myself 30 was a good time for new beginnings.
I didn't know how much of a fresh start that would be.
I felt a panic creeping in that heralded its way for years.
My ribs opened. I wanted to break through the armor.
I wanted to grow a billion acres inside me.
All I felt was a heart attack on its way.
The road between.
Our last trip together.
When Jeff and I broke,
when I moved out,
when I juggled and pretended to be good at it,
I waited in the bathtub for my heart to stop.
I figured it would, and what a pain it would be for Melissa to come home
to teach a cello lesson and deal with my dead weight.
But all I had to do was slow down.
All I had to do was wander and get lost.
I saw a lot of San Francisco.
And Simon said he hated me. A lot.
Then he turned 4 and decided he just hated my shoes. Or my hair. Or my socks.
Grief is hard on 4-year-olds too.
We learned to draw together
and finally I could hug him again
without his squealing no.
I blamed myself for taking care of myself in ways that hurt anyone else.
I found a big collie like a wolf -- he was everything to me.
I asked for him for years.
I moved. I moved. I moved.
I fell out of trees I climbed.
Men took advantage of me and some took me across the country.
I hurt people and I didn't mean it but that's how self-destruction goes.
There was a lot of cat hair.
I looked at stars. Stars looked at me.
My dad died.
My dad's mom was hard to deal with
but I think that's because I had to do her laundry
and fold her large silk panties
and she said I had a nose like a pig.
It's time I got over that.
I miss the relationship we never had.
Eating disorder treatment center.
And all the disorder before, after that.
Running away with a con man sociopath.
Writing saved my life.
A high school English teacher said my story was filth,
so I didn't writ another until ten years passed.
I turned to playwriting and prop mastery.
I made lots of mistakes.
I fell in love with everyone.
One for four years.
We played house.
Then it was too much.
Then I found the one I'd loved for years and years.
I am the slinking panther falling down rock into prey, mouth baring
I am the gypsy moth drawn to light in darkness
I am the surface of pond skimming under skippers
Rushing, opening, still
I was the avalanche
I am the campfire
I will be constellations
I see with yellow eyes that cloud over brick
I wash through land in algae water--
Over rocks, make them crisp smooth brilliant
My growl heard over a hundred countrysides
My ears open to sunset showers
My hands lifting daddy long legs to safe grass
Hear the sandpipers
Catch a salmon
Find ocean bottom
That place less explored than solar system
What am I missing?
Where am I?
Where am I now?
What am I?
Where am I now?
This chameleon shape shifter
Who do you see in this mirror
Who do you want to see in this empty boat
I am the space between ( )
shadow in the glass
moon howling, the expanse
quiet proud mountain peaks
reach snow tops to grey sky, drowning
I poke them from the boat
don't forget sage
and don't forget me, please
white clouds blinding photo prints
I miss your stellar mind and heart
Where is California? When are you here?
How far is sky? How empty is dirt?
the sea ate everything else
globe overwhelmed by rocky blue
where no earth is visible from sky
white expanse, meeting flood
poor fruit, fallen away
us discarded collectors
roam and savaging
my parents never saw land
but their parents
who I never met
but I heard stories
when everything was dry, dry dry
then flashes flooding washing over us
the us before
the us now,
our bodies changing, Mom says
our fingers webbing
I am the sandpiper that skips over stones on our walk
I squawk like you talk and kick steps hip hop
I want to slow inside, steady willow dripping down
To fill with seeds, soften
To find weight, sink
My nature drowns in much muchness
To root down, fall into earth
Watch humans rush
To find now, be, notice
No speeding through air clouds
Heart like ocean, brain like universe
Push down, pull up, legs grip, still wavering stalks
There at my throat back, venus fly trap sprouts.
Noticed when I woke to teeth grinding, my night ritual.
But this time, a sour bug taste instead of iron grit.
A buzzing glimmer, then
My mouth zapped shut inside my mouth.
Teeth under teeth.
I pressed inside at long needles stabbing my finger, clamping down.
Stinging blood on my prints, jerking away.
Afraid of the mirror but too curious to avoid.
A shower to clear head, wash face, keep jaw closed.
Wiped fog off glass, plucked brows and brushed hair,
But to clean teeth, I had to open.
And inside, this monster plant glaring whites open for a brush too.
I snapped my clamp back shut, resigned to silent halitosis.
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: